Christmas Felicitations

30th November 2023

The SPEAKER (14:40): I thank the member for Wahroonga. He could have pushed his luck a bit more; he was so kind in his comments about the Speaker that I was inclined to give him a sneaky extension. I thank the House for allowing me the privilege to make my Christmas felicitations from the chair. This is the first time that the 25 new members of Parliament have the opportunity to deliver Christmas felicitations in the House and it is the first time that I have the opportunity to do so from the chair. Therefore, I will perhaps cover a wide range of topics. I comment on the remarkable nature of the Fifty-Eighth Parliament. I congratulate members on their re-election and congratulate those newly elected. Only one new member is in the Chamber at the moment—the member for Castle Hill. I have spent time with all of them and can say this is probably one of the most remarkable member intakes. The people of New South Wales elected some amazing representatives. I commend all members for their work.

The new MPs make up a bit more than 25 per cent of the members in the House. That is a significant and healthy turnover for representative democracy. We have had an extraordinarily smooth transition. Last night at a media event the nature of the relationship between the outgoing Premier, whom I acknowledge, and the incoming Premier was commented on. It is so refreshing that we can have that kind of engagement across parties. In relation to my own re-election, I acknowledge the people of Lake Macquarie. I do not know why they did it, but they increased my margin. I really appreciate it. I like to think I work hard, but I know that others do too—including my opponents on the election circuit. I appreciate everything that has been given to me by the electorate of Lake Macquarie. It is not at all taken for granted.

It is an extraordinary honour that the House elected me as Presiding Officer, and I assure members that I feel a great responsibility. I will continue to do my best to maintain order in the House but also allow the free flow of contributions and ideas—particularly from the member for Wollongong. I certainly would not want to suppress him.

Mr Paul Scully: No, never. Thank you.

The SPEAKER: I thank my Speaker's panel. They have stepped up, although many did not understand the responsibility or what it might involve. I acknowledge my Deputy Speaker, Sonia Hornery; the Assistant Speaker, Jason Li; the member for Sydney, Alex Greenwich; the member for Upper Hunter, David Layzell; the member for Cessnock, Clayton Barr; the member for Drummoyne, Stephanie Di Pasqua; and the member for Parramatta, Donna Davis. I thank the member for Upper Hunter, who is in the Chamber, for the heavy lifting he has done. Everybody has felt the weight of the extra workload with long sitting hours. It is not easy for anyone, but members who also participate in debates—such as the member for Sydney does—have many responsibilities to manage. They also step up to take the chair and assist with the carriage of business through the House. It is much appreciated.

I acknowledge the Premier and wish him all the best as he recovers from COVID. I am sure he would have chosen to be here. He will not necessarily be enjoying the break from this place in the last week of sitting. I wish him and his family all the best over the Christmas break, as I do the other leadership groups. The Deputy Premier, Prue Car, has stepped up admirably this week. It is never easy to be in opposition, and I recognise the Leader of the Opposition, Mark Speakman. I appreciate the manner in which he transacts business and treats everybody with respect and dignity. I acknowledge the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, with whom I enjoy a good working relationship, as I do with most of the leadership group in the House. I cannot go on without acknowledging their staff. I am sure I speak for most members when I say that none of us could do what we do without our staff. I reflect on that and thank them all for their assistance.

I have always had a good working relationship with the Leader of the House, the member for Heffron. The member for Sydney and I have enjoyed working with him through two Parliaments and two minority governments. We have found that we can work productively and be treated honourably by the Leader of the House and by the Manager of Opposition Business. So I thank Ron Hoenig and Alister Henskens. As the member for Wahroonga alluded to, debate in here gets robust at times. He has some good sparring opportunities with the member for Heffron—and, behind the scenes, sometimes with me and the member for Sydney. But we move on. It is all in good faith, and I thank them for that. I acknowledge the Whips. The member for Leppington has stepped up. It is quite extraordinary for a first-term member to move into a role as important as Government Whip.

Mr Paul Scully: And he is doing a good job too, Mr Speaker.

The SPEAKER: As the member for Wollongong said, he is doing a good job. I pay him my respects and thank him for the way he has performed in the role. He is learning quickly because he has taken advice—not from me—and goes about his business in a thoughtful way. I have known the member for Terrigal for quite some time, and he knows better. Hansard will insert "general laughter" at this point. I thank the member for Terrigal for his friendship over time. Once again, being a Whip is not easy. Being a Whip in government carries a lot of responsibility but it is certainly not an easy role in opposition. The member should understand we recognise that. We truly do. You need your Deputy Whips and the staff who support you. I thank them all. For the Government, I recognise Omar Rodriguez and Colleen Symington in the Whip's Office. I truly respect both Omar and Colleen. I really appreciate the help that I have had from Colleen Symington, not just in my role as Speaker but over the years. From the office of the member for Terrigal and Opposition Whip, Bo is absolutely wonderful to work with. I thank them all.

I acknowledge my electorate office staff—I am hope they are listening because I think they truly do not believe I remember them. I am just not there often enough, and I truly do feel that. I see the planning Minister nodding in agreement. It is so hard to carry out all our roles and responsibilities and keep in contact fully with the electorate. It is something I am working really hard to do—and I hope I am succeeding. It is working now because of my staff. I recognise Belinda Pevy, Kim Williamson, Alex Freeland, Roisin Moir and Debra Dennis, my relief staff. They make the office work so well. It could not happen without them, and I thank them.

Whether it is an affectation or a confection, there has always been this tension between the Legislative Council and the Legislative Assembly. If we were a unicameral system, we would not have to deal with them. But, as we do, I must say that I could not be more pleased that The Nationals so generously gave their blessing to the President, Ben Franklin. I thank all Nationals members involved. I am working very well with the President, and I think the Parliament is working much better across the Chambers under this particular paradigm. I can say that Ben Franklin and I wish to continue to grow that relationship across the divide. I also work closely with his staff—his chief of staff, Will Coates, and Rebel Neary.

I acknowledge David Blunt, the Clerk of the other place. David is an extraordinary professional. He is hugely experienced in his role, whether it is in dealing with members of the LC or the LA—he will actually talk to us. If members get a chance, they should avail themselves of David Blunt's wisdom and knowledge. There are of course extraordinary people in our own area. Three of them are our Clerks at the table, and I thank them. The Clerk of the Legislative Assembly, Helen Minnican; her deputy, Carly Maxwell; Serjeant-at-Arms Simon Johnston; and Jonathan Elliott are all extraordinarily professional, engaging people. We greatly appreciate everything they do. I also acknowledge Todd Buttsworth for all he does to assist us.

I turn now to the Department of Parliamentary Services. I recently spent an extraordinary amount of time working with the Department of Parliamentary Services—something I rarely had to do unless I had a problem in the electorate office. But I have got to know so much about this Parliament in the short time since 9 May. I have huge regard and respect for the work of Mark Webb. I am sure that Mark is listening; he loves a good speech. So, Mark, tick that one off: I said something really nice about you, and I genuinely meant it. I also acknowledge Julie Langsworth and Kelly McFayden, and Rob Nielsen and Lyndall Smith from building services and IT.

I am sure all members deal with the people in catering—they do a fantastic job—Lee Kwiez, Carlos Andrade and Vanessa Harcourt. I am very pleased that Vanessa has returned to this precinct and taken over our catering. I thank our staff in cleaning; finance; Human Services; security, being Anthony Macvean, Ralph Ewen and Song Charoenkitti; the Library, Matthew Dobson and his team; media, Ingrid Lane; and education. And I am just going to look up at Hansard in awe. I do not know how they do it—the long hours, the transcribing. I truly do mean it: I thank them. I thank them for what they do on those long, late nights. We do that; we are the masters of our own destiny. But they come along and they step up. We thank them very much. It is greatly appreciated.

The cleaning staff around this place are a bit like the United Nations. I have made so many friends over the years, and they are such wonderful people. I cannot list them all, but I want to mention some that I have known over the years. I see Gusti Saiful every morning. I love to see Gusti. Carmen Vejarano cleans the Chamber every morning. Members might see Carmen in here early in the morning. She is a lovely lady. Jonathan Vega—if anyone is into music—is also a musician who plays rock and blues. He is a pretty cool guy and a great all-rounder. I thank him for everything he does. In catering in this place, I thank Kim. I am sure almost everyone knows Kim. She is always there with Anong Vichapol, Charlotte Page and Mai Le. They do a wonderful job. They certainly serve the needs of the Speaker's team, particularly when we are entertaining—we have many people from the consulate and visiting dignitaries call into the Parliament. The team certainly makes people's visit here that much better.

I hope that members know all these people. On my team, I am sure that most members know Jason Gordon, my chief of staff, who came with me from my electorate office originally and has been absolutely extraordinary stepping up into that role. Jason, thank you for everything. I am sure the people you have to deal with are equally appreciative and want to thank me for putting you on. Your work across the Chamber and around the building is fantastic. Jodi Rahme and Shu-fang Wei were there when I came into this role as they worked for the former Speaker. I was absolutely blessed that they wished to stay with me and offered to do so. I could not have made a better decision. The same goes for Ally Hawes, who also helps out in that area—although I should not say "Ally"; I like to call her "Alexandra". I thank Floyd, my driver, who is also part of the team. He knows so much. He does not say anything about anyone, but he knows. He is very discreet. It is a great team. None of us could do this without our teams around us.

I will wrap up now and thank the entire Parliament. The goodwill across this Chamber is extraordinary. I intend to keep mining it. I want to extract the best from everybody. I think everybody knows there is so much good in everyone in this place. Members do not get here if they do not have something to give, and I think we should also look to get the best out of it. That does not mean we will not have good, robust debate—as perhaps exemplified in yesterday's public interest debate. I congratulate Opposition members on finally finding their feet and having a good, robust debate. Of course, I also acknowledge the Government for having won the vote. With that, I conclude my remarks and just thank everybody. I wish you all a wonderful Christmas. Come back nice and relaxed and ready for a big 2024. Thank you very much.

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