Mark Latham’s Final Parliamentary Speech

No-one knew it at the time, presumably not even Mark Latham himself, but his valedictory comments in the House of Representatives on December 9, 2004, were to be his last words in the parliament.


Latham had led the ALP to defeat at the federal election of October 9. The ALP went backwards, returning just 60 seats in the 150 seat lower house, a net loss of 5 from 2001. The party’s primary vote was 37.64%, its lowest since 1931.

After the election, Latham was re-elected leader of the ALP, but on January 18, 2005 he resigned the leadership and left parliament. His departure followed a bout of illness and mounting criticism of his low profile during the Asian tsunami in the post-Christmas period. At a Caucus meeting on January 28, Kim Beazley returned to the leadership.

Latham was elected as the ALP member for Werriwa at a by-election in early 1994. He took over from John Kerin, a minister in the Hawke and Keating governments. The seat was held by former prime minister Gough Whitlam from 1952-78. Latham became leader of the ALP following Simon Crean’s resignation in December 2003.

Valedictory statements are a traditional part of parliamentary proceedings at the end of each year. Shortly after Latham spoke, the House adjourned for the year.

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Valedictory remarks by the Leader of the Opposition, Mark Latham, to the House of Representatives.

Mr LATHAM (Leader of the Opposition) (5:04 PM) —I join with the Prime Minister in extending good wishes to the members of the parliament, to the staff of the parliament—who deserve to be recognised on this important occasion—and, of course, to the people of the country at such a special part of the year. Politics is a great vocation. It is a chance to serve the people in public office. It is much more than a contest, it is a great distinction, and I am sure in an election year the members who have contested their seats successfully understand the nature of the distinction.

Sometimes in the heat of the battle we forget about the importance of democracy itself—that each of us come with a heavy responsibility to try and build public trust and confidence in the institution itself. I always try and make the point, in attempting to get young people more interested in politics, that when they look at the TV news at night they can see many unhappy examples of how countries are not being run harmoniously and successfully—nations that do not have democratic freedoms and democratic rights. Hopefully around the country Australians are thankful that in an election year, notwithstanding the disappointment we had in the result, the elections were free and fair. That is something to celebrate and something we should always be mindful of in this democratic chamber, particularly as we try and encourage young people to value the importance of our democracy and add to it in future years.

We do need to encourage all Australians to have a higher opinion of our democracy. In the Labor Party we fancy ourselves as the party of change and often feel that our burden is doubly difficult in that we have to encourage people to be interested not only in politics but also in the prospects of progressive change in our society. That for us is one of the foundations of our beliefs, and I am sure all members going into the Christmas period after the white heat battle of an election campaign know the importance of having democratic trust and the confidence of the Australian people.

Like the Prime Minster, I wish all the members of the parliament, their partners and their families the best over the Christmas period. It is a special time of the year. I have always regarded it as the best time of the year, because no matter what you have been doing—your vocation, your calling, your interest, your job—you come together with the joy of giving, the joy of family and the joy of giving love to those that you are close to.

I wish the Prime Minister and his family all the very best through the festive season, and also the party leaders and their families: the Nationals, the Independents, the Democrats, the Greens, other party interests around the parliament and all members in this place. All senators work hard, but I rather fancy that party leaders have extra burdens to bear and perhaps look forward to the holiday period and the love of our families with particular relish.

All the members do work hard, but on this side of the House I want to particularly acknowledge the range of people who have contributed to the management of opposition business. I wish them and their families all the best—in particular the member for Lalor, the member for Grayndler and the member for Hotham. In particular I want to thank one of the advisors to the member for Lalor. We all know she is a brilliant tactician and strategist and we always value her contributions in the House, but behind every great female tactical genius is a good man—that man has been Jamie Snashall—‘Sasha’ to his mates—and we thank him for his service over the past 12 months in helping to pull together the question time tactics and information each sitting day. That is not the easiest task in the parliament, but he has done it well, contributing to the opposition.

Together with Phillippe Allen and now Jack Lake in my office, all the members of the opposition pay tribute to Jamie’s service and we hope that our party, tonight in humour, is going to lift its standard compared to past efforts. In terms of his real vocation, politics and public service, we wish him well in the future.

Mr Speaker, I extend to you, your wife, Penny, and your family all the best for the Christmas period. We know we have given you something of a baptism of fire in the last couple of weeks, but let me assure you that it is good for you. It is character building. The Prime Minister, a man of endurance in public life, knows that sometimes you have to do it tough to reap the rewards later on. I am sure that you understand the goodwill and good wishes that the opposition extends to you for the Christmas period and the term of parliament ahead. I also wish to convey my best wishes to your predecessor, Neil Andrew, who is fondly regarded on all sides of the parliament and who served this chamber with such distinction. We wish him and his family all the best over the Christmas period and the years ahead.

On the Labor side I thank my deputy, Jenny Macklin, for her hard work. I am sure she is looking forward to the Christmas period with her family and her loved ones. I thank all the shadow ministers past and present we have had on the Labor side for their special contribution—the Labor MPs and the Senate team so well led over the years by John Faulkner and now Chris Evans. I pay particular credit and tribute to John Faulkner who, to me, epitomises the best of Labor culture—a man of true solidarity and principle. He is a true believer in the best sense of left of centre politics. His contribution has been particularly important to us and I know that he deserves the break with his family and loved ones in the weeks ahead.

I also want to say a special thankyou to the Labor Party supporters who worked for our cause and our campaign in the recent election—the true believers who put in, notwithstanding the disappointment of the result. When you struggle for a better society the cause always matters and the effort always matters—and, from Tim Gartrell down, I thank every single Labor partisan who worked so hard throughout 2004.

I also want to thank the staff of the parliament who make this place function so well. At one level we have the easy part of it—we turn up in a highly functional and efficient building to serve the people of Australia but we should always be very thankful for those who serve us in this large building. It is not an easy task. The people who work here are great servants of our democratic system. So I thank the attendants, the clerks, their staff, the table office and all of those who add to the smooth functioning of the democratic chamber and the parliament.

Along with the Prime Minister I thank Hansard—you get into these jobs and you do not get to correct the greens as much as you might have as a backbencher—they make sense of our words and do a tremendous job. They keep us safe and sound in the way we communicate to the Australian people and the historians who will look at all these illustrious debates in years ahead and try to make some sense of them.

I thank the staff of the Parliamentary Library. I do not see them as much as I used to. Not only has it come about that I am not writing books these days but I am not reading as many as I used to. So I do not see them but I know that they are providing an exceptionally professional and comprehensive service to all the members and senators. Along with the Prime Minister I urge the new members in this place to not only put in, be enthusiastic and do their work hard and well, but also make good use of the library. We are well served here. We have one of the best parliamentary libraries in the Western world. We should thank the information staff and the research staff—and the new members here would do themselves a good service to use that library as effectively as possible. Labor members, of course, will use it well. Government members can also make good use of the library and be thankful for its services.

I thank the Serjeant-at-Arms and the office that make all things work so well. I thank the Joint House staff, who keep this fine building in great nick and cater to our needs. I thank the cleaners and those who maintain the grounds and the rooms of the parliament—the cleaners in particular. If you ever get in here very early in the morning or tend to leave late at night you will see the cleaners moving in and around the building. I have a soft spot for the cleaners—my mum was one. So to the cleaners who look after us and clean up after us: we really do thank you for that effort in the dark of night, in tough working conditions. To keep our rooms and the space of the parliament so clean and neat is a great tribute to you. They are, in many respects, the silent heroes of the building as they move around. I want to wish them a particularly happy Christmas and I look forward to seeing them in 2005.

I thank the marketing and visiting staff, who do such a great job in bringing thousands of schoolchildren and visitors through the parliament. Visitors see the good and the bad of our work and they get a first-hand view of the place. I think that practical experience counts for a lot more than just viewing the parliament through television.

I thank the switchboard staff. They always work hard, particularly in an election year. They do a great job, and we thank them for their courtesy and their pleasant way of handling our calls and needs through the switchboard.

I thank the caterers, who help us to put the weight on; I thank the health and recreation staff, who help us to take a small portion of it off—never enough, of course, but they do a great service to the parliament and its members.

I want to thank the staff of the opposition—the people who work hard for us in a very practical way—and in particular my personal staff. People do these jobs for the right reason and the right purpose. It is not for the public profile or the personal glorification that might come in a successful public life. The staff behind the scenes are doing things on the basis of belief and conviction. From George Thompson down, in my office and right through the opposition offices, I thank them for their hard work in opposition, which can be frustrating and exacting, but they really and truly put in for the cause of Labor in 2004.

In my electorate of Werriwa, where it is always a great distinction and honour to serve such a wonderful Labor constituency—I have not been there as much in 2004 because of my party leadership responsibilities—I want to thank in a special way my electorate office staff, headed by Lyn Watson but also including Vicki Meadows, Michelle Halloran and Louise Makings for their work in looking after the people of Werriwa. I want to thank my campaign staff and the electors of the seat, who continue to give me the great distinction of serving in this place on their behalf.

As we head into the holiday period, I want to pay particular tribute to the volunteers of our nation, the quiet heroes who selflessly put themselves in harm’s way to protect life and property—people like our volunteer firefighters and lifeguards. While we look forward to Christmas and we know it is a great country in which to spend December and January, we also know it can be a harsh and punishing nation. Unfortunately there will inevitably be difficulties through the Christmas period, and we should always be grateful for the work of the volunteers and professional people who deal with those problems and issues. Also, I want to pay tribute to the volunteers who serve in silence but with no less distinction: our carers and community service workers.

I also thank the young men and women of our armed forces, where Australia has always been so well served. Regardless of our views on the issues of international policy, we always unite as a parliament and we always support our Australians overseas. We thank them for their contribution and their dedication to our great nation.

I also extend best wishes to the members of our diplomatic corps and our foreign aid workers. As the bombing in Jakarta so terribly demonstrated, these days they are very much in the frontline in the war against terror. They defend our national interests and serve the country so well. We should wish them a very good Christmas and thank them for their service to the nation, in particular those Australian aid workers overseas. I always believe that as a parliament we need to do more, as we visit overseas locations, to come back with stories of the productive work of the Australian aid budget. In recent years, I have been to ghettos in Delhi and Jakarta where you can see how the Australian aid contribution helps to feed people. It helps to keep them alive. It is a wonderful service to humanity. At a time when people do wonder about the allocation of scarce government resources, we should always promote the value of the Australian foreign aid budget and the wonderful service it provides to Third World nations and people in absolutely desperate need. So I thank them for their work. They will have a challenging Christmas, as they always do in locations like that, just to keep people going and give them the dignity of a decent human life.

I wish the Australian people a very happy Christmas and a safe and rewarding new year. We are a prosperous nation. It is always said that we are a lucky country, but we cannot take the luck for granted. As we reflect on our joyous Christmas and the love, sharing and giving of family, we should also spare a thought for those Australians who do it tough right throughout the year—Australians who live in poverty. At this time of the year I urge all Australians to give generously of their time and resources to the great charities that look after the poor, the disadvantaged and the disabled. They work right around the year, but that work counts so much more at Christmas time, when we need to share the love and emotion and the caring nature of our country. I wish all Australians a safe and happy Christmas.

Finally, in a very special way, I want to thank my family for their love and encouragement through the course of this year—my wife, Janine; our two wonderful little boys, Oliver and Isaac; my mother; my sisters; and my family. Like other members of the parliament, I desperately long to spend extended time with them in the weeks and months ahead. I look forward to that very much. When we reflect on the love of family, that truly is the spirit of Christmas. I wish all Australians to share in it and all members of this parliament to feel the love and care of this special part of the year.

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