Well… we made it! On Friday, we marked the end of this year’s Senate sitting calendar and Parliament has now risen for the summer.
After five busy months in the job and a particularly challenging last couple of weeks, my team and I now have a chance to reflect on what has been achieved - and what there is to do - as we look to the end of the year. I’m not sure that peace and quiet is on the agenda.
With MYEFO announced today, pressing global issues and those in my portfolios and the many social functions that accompany this time of year, there is still much to do – but nothing can rival the frenzy and frenetic pace of a sitting week.
The last weeks, especially, have seen us sprinting (well... walking fast!) through the maze-like corridors of Parliament House to get to functions, divisions, meetings, engagements, sessions and audiences. Since starting in July, in a workplace where every minute is at a premium, I've certainly learnt to stride. (One of my staff, with shorter legs than me, was heard to observe, "This is so West Wing," as she was forced to trot beside me to keep up!)
Over the last few weeks, it seemed there was a conga line of esteemed foreign (and homegrown) personages visiting our shores, requiring me to pack more than the usual quota of "frocks". We’ve seen a Queen, a President and a Prince and Princess all welcomed into receptions in our wonderful Great Hall of Parliament– with its stunning tapestry backdrop of tall timbers, designed by Arthur Boyd. And each time I was proud and moved to witness the gracious welcome to country by our own local dignitary from Canberra’s Ngunnawal region.
Our Australian Greens End of Year Party in the Senate courtyard last Thursday night was a lively affair, as we celebrated the past year and the beckoning break with friends, colleagues, journalists and staff. In previous years the weather has been barmy and the ‘al fresco’ setting perfect. Last week, though, it was positively Antarctic and it was only the warming good cheer and the equally warming beverages that kept the icicles at bay.
Just as Senator Bob Brown was encouraging us to rest and enjoy the break because life is short, fate stepped in with impeccable timing, and the Chamber bells signalled the end of the dinner break. It was a very funny moment. "Ask not for whom the bell tolls," I thought – it tolled for those of us who were venturing back into the chamber to continue debate on the Work Health and Safety Bill 2011. At least it gave me a chance to thaw out.
The break will also give us some time to reflect on a very successful year for the Australian Greens and, on a more personal note, the end of my first year in the Senate since I was sworn in July. We have notched up some significant achievements in the last five months with our extended team of 10 – the most exciting without doubt is the long-awaited passage of the Clean Energy package, which will ensure the costs of carbon pollution are finally being factored into the things we do and buy.
It is beyond doubt that the way we live today has a significant impact on the climate and our biosphere and we must take action to live responsibly and sustainably to ensure a healthy future for the generations of humans and other species that will come after us.
I am very proud that we have passed this legislation which will contribute towards a better, safer and healthier future for our children and grandchildren. There is so much more work to do but we have now made a start.
Last week, we saw another fantastic piece of legislation pass the Senate - the Fair Protection for Firefighters Bill 2011 - which will make it easier for Australian firefighters to access compensation in cases where they are diagnosed with certain cancers.
About 50 firefighters were sitting in the gallery to see this bill pass. Many of them had been waiting for this day for a long time and for some, it brought mixed feelings – and some tears - especially for those who have lost a loved one, a mate or a colleague to cancer.
But there was also genuine joy in the air, with the knowledge that it was a fitting acknowledgement of the health risks faced by firefighters every day when they put their lives on the line to protect people and property. This is a fantastic example of the outcomes we can achieve as a parliament if we work together effectively – this Greens bill, initiated by Adam Bandt in the House of Reps, ultimately had support from all parties and it was heartening to see the games, which too often underpin politics, relinquished in favour of something truly worthy and positive.
It was a great day to be a parliamentarian!
Seeing the Firefighters bill pass was a grand way to end this year, but in between the pavlovas and parties that this time of year brings, we won’t lose our focus on the new year and the fresh challenges and opportunities it will bring.
There is a lot more work to do and no doubt we will all be a bit less tired, more motivated, clearer-thinking, faster-moving and harder-working after the break, ready to tackle the new year – and the corridors of Parliament House again.
As we come into the festive season, I’m looking forward to swapping the Senate Chamber for a couple of hours in my kitchen (I think I remember where it is but may have to resort to the GPS on my phone) to make my traditional cake full of beautiful Australian dried fruit (and a wee dash of brandy) and spending a little more time with friends and family.
I wish all Australians – however they mark this special time of year – the best of times.
I know this can be a hard time for many, however, and I spare a thought for those who are doing it tough for many reasons.
I am particularly conscious of those who won’t be able to be with their loved ones and especially those who are serving on our behalf in Afghanistan and other conflict zones around the globe.
Our thoughts – and gratitude - are with you. We hope you remain safe.
Best wishes and may 2012 bring us increased wisdom, peace and wellbeing in challenging times.