Anthony Albanese MP – 2023 valedictory speech in which he mentions Gaza

photo of Anthony Albanese MP
December 7, 2023

We know that, for so many people in the Jewish community, the rise in antisemitism is having a real impact. For those who have relatives and friends in Gaza, it is a tragic time as well. We have seen that Islamophobia is a very real issue that we need to deal with.

Mr ALBANESE (GrayndlerPrime Minister) (15:15): We’ve limited valedictories this year to just me and the Leader of the Opposition. It will be of some relief to some who’ve been here in past years!

Yesterday was a really emotional day to be in this place, and I thank people from across the chamber for paying tribute to our dear friend Peta Murphy. It was the parliament at its finest. I know that Rod Glover, Peta’s beloved husband, listened all day, as did other members of her family, and they were very touched by the tributes that were made in this chamber.

Through those speeches there was a common theme, I’ve got to say, about the privilege that we have of serving this great nation. It is a gift that should be cherished every minute that those of us who’ve had the privilege of sitting in this chamber, the House of Representatives—and there haven’t been many throughout the time since Federation—have had. It is a gift, and we must cherish it every day.

Every day in this place there’s also a chance to change the country for the better, and we should always understand that we only get that privilege because of our electorates that send us here. I know, because of the sacrifices that are made in people’s personal lives in order to be here, that overwhelmingly, regardless of where people sit in this chamber, people go into this life with the best of motives.

So this is an opportunity each year to thank some people without whom we wouldn’t be here. I’ll begin by thanking my electorate—without that, you do not get here. I also thank my Labor caucus colleagues for giving me the great honour since 2019 of leading the oldest political party in Australia and one of the most successful social democratic parties in the world. It is a great honour, and I certainly don’t take it for granted.

I thank my partner, Jodie Haydon, who has been thrown into all sorts of circumstances, such as Jill Biden, on stage at a state dinner, throwing the mike to Jodie to give a speech. That’s probably not what she, a decade ago, was envisaging her life would be like, but she has served her country well in areas like that as well, and I thank her for her personal support.

I thank my son Nathan. It’s his birthday tomorrow. He also is just so supportive, and I’m so proud of the young man that he has developed into.

To my deputy, Richard Marles, who tragically today has the funeral of his mother-in-law: no-one could hope for a better, more loyal, more hardworking, more committed deputy than Richard. I thank him for everything that he does.

To the Leader of the House, Burkie—it’s a fun job! He does an outstanding job here.

To our Senate leadership team, led by Penny and Don—they do a fantastic job. As much as sometimes I speak about the parliament as if it is just this chamber, they remind me all the time that there’s another place, where legislation has to be got through. They have done an outstanding job doing that.

To Jim and Katie, the economic team—they are doing such an extraordinary job in what are very turbulent global times in the economy, and they’re really delivering. Both of them are passionate about delivering for working people and for making a difference for people who really rely upon Labor governments. For a lot of people government is an academic exercise about values, and that’s important. But there are a lot of people out there, in my view—and it’s obviously a partisan statement—for whom the Labor government makes a difference to their lives. In the deliberations on issues like single parents and other things that we have during the budgets that have been brought down, we have very much focused on that.

To the people who look after my security—I thank all of them. To all the defence personnel, including the RAAF and others who look after us—I thank you for your service and I thank you for what you do. Whether it’s people who work on personal detail or people who are servants of the nation, who wear our uniform, the men and women do us proud, whether they’re serving here or overseas.

To my department—I went down yesterday; it was an extraordinarily busy day and saw all my department at Prime Minister and Cabinet led by Glyn Davis—I thank you. The Public Service is an honourable profession. We’re determined to restore its status. We make no apologies for saying that permanent public servants need to be elevated in the way that we honour them and treat them, rather than just contracting out, and people being engaged, which ends up costing more in the long run as well.

To you, Mr Speaker—you do an extraordinary job in keeping all of us on track, and I thank you for the work that you’ve done. Of course, the Chief Whip and all of the whips up the back there do an incredible job, just ticking over too.

My personal staff are led by Tim Gartrell, who began as my chief in the Marrickville electorate office in 1996. He has done a fair few things since then. I don’t know what he did to have to come back! People who come back haven’t got any reason to complain, because they know what they’re getting. A range of them, including everyone sitting in the box over there, have come back after stints away from my office. It’s an incredible team. To Marika, Bell, Anna and Daniel, who do the more personal diary, running around and doing things that have to get done—I thank all of you. To Liz Fitch and the media team—you’re outstanding and I thank you for the patience you show with me and with the liaison between me and the media. ‘The media have an important role to play in our democracy,’ I said last night, when hosting drinks for them at the Lodge. More people turned up at the Lodge last night for media drinks than work in the gallery, I reckon! We did have to escort them out at some stage. There are some still there, I suspect, somewhere down the bottom. You play an important role in our democracy, and it’s an honourable profession to be a journalist in this country, or in any country. We’re reminded that, in places like Ukraine and the Middle East, journalists are losing their lives in order to cover stories that are important.

To Tim Murray and my electorate staff as well: I’m sorry that there are so many demonstrations at the moment, in particular. I’ll just make this point: blocking an electorate office of a member of parliament doesn’t change a political decision. What it does is stop people who need their local member from getting access on issues of social security, health care and others. The Middle East is a very difficult issue, but my electorate office are not responsible for anything that is happening there.

I wish the Leader of the Opposition and Kirilly and their children all the very best for Christmas and the new year. It’s a terrible job—I know, having done it—but I wish you well on a personal level. I think that, in spite of other things I say publicly, what I say privately is that we are always able to engage. I’ve had more conversations with you in a month than I had in the previous three years, when I was in your position, with my counterpart. You need to be able to talk in a civil way even when there are disagreements, and we’re able to do that.

Christmas is a joyous time for many of us. For people of faith, of course, it is particularly important for Christians. I will spend Christmas Day, as usual, with Bill Crews at the Exodus Foundation, who served last year, I think, up to 4½ thousand meals on Christmas Day. People start queuing before 6 am every year, and it’s a wonderful occasion and really uplifting. I note that they now close off volunteer applications because they have more people who want to volunteer and spend Christmas Day there to help than they can deal with, and that says something about the character of our country: that at the worst of times Australians always show the best of who we are.

It can be a hard time for people too. We need to acknowledge that it can be a really hard time for people who’ve suffered loss. It is a time when we think about and reminisce about what has gone the year before. One of the things that happen at Bill Crews’s is that it’s not just people who are homeless or who are in need financially; it’s also people who are in need of someone to have lunch with—people who are lonely. So it would be good if people can think about their neighbours and their community and reach out to people who might be going through a tough time or might just need someone to have a word or a meal or a drink with.

These are testing times for the world, and Australia is not immune from it. We’re confronted daily with news of terrible loss and devastation and with images that challenge our very faith in humanity. We know that, for so many people in the Jewish community, the rise in antisemitism is having a real impact. For those who have relatives and friends in Gaza, it is a tragic time as well. We have seen that Islamophobia is a very real issue that we need to deal with. It is a time when the ethic of kindness, which I was certainly raised with, should be a theme for all of us as we go forward. That’s what the message of Christmas is about: it’s about reaching out and assisting others. I hope that 2024 is a more peaceful time, whether it be in the Middle East or Ukraine or other troubled areas.

We’re very fortunate to live in this great country of Australia. We need to make sure that we don’t take the social harmony that characterises our multicultural nation for granted—that we cherish it, enrich it, nurture it and celebrate it. That is very important.

I look forward to seeing everyone in 2024, and I wish everyone in this chamber—people who are staff and people who are listening or watching, including, I want to say all the crossbenchers as well. The way that you have handled yourselves, the sorts of questions that are asked and your diligence in representing your community are very positive things as well. For me, as a major party loyalist, that’s a very difficult thing to say, but it is true in terms of the respect that I have for people who are genuinely representing their electorates. So I wish everyone a merry Christmas.

Link to Parliamentary Hansard