Former Parliamentary Members’ Association Queensland Annual Christmas Luncheon
Mr Speaker, the Honourable Peter Wellington; past and present elected representatives - both state and federal - and guests. To the traditional custodians of these lands, I extend respectful greetings.
Thank you very much for inviting me to speak at this your annual Christmas luncheon.
As parliamentarians, you all followed and follow a long-standing and proud tradition. How did it develop – and you will be relieved to hear this history will be brief.
Well, since ancient times men and women have grouped together for protection, support and companionship - and since those early days there has been a correlative need to have rules to govern society. Then, as now, those rules have been made and enforced, in the main, by systems of collective decision making.
The decisions of headmen in tribal societies were generally assessed and ratified by tribal elders. In ancient Mesopotamia and India societies were governed by primitive democratic processes.
Athens, with its “popular assembly”, is universally considered to be the cradle of democracy and the Roman Republic had legislative assemblies which enacted statutes two millennia ago.
It is not surprising to learn that the Nordic countries, considered in recent decades to be amongst world leaders in open and accountable government, were hosts to the oldest parliamentary institutions in the world.
The Icelandic Althing parliament was established about 930 AD and the Parliament of the Faroe Islands, a self-governing archipelago within Denmark, dates back to Viking times.
Of course our own Parliaments have their roots in Britain’s Model Parliament called by Edward the First in 1295.
My point is that collective decision making by representatives of the community has been around since the dawn of mankind and the Parliamentary system, in one form or another, has been around for more than a thousand years.
The only way for this system to have such longevity and for society to be ordered and indeed progressive, is to have competent, professional, compassionate, intelligent, hard-working and caring people representing our communities – and of course a dedicated public service. I was privileged yesterday to meet many officers of the Brisbane City Council, and I was most impressed by their attention both to the present, and the future of this great metropolis. I am proud of our public service at all levels of government administration.
My belief is that in Queensland, and indeed the wider Australian community, we are fortunate, in the main, to have and to have had in the past, the highest calibre of politicians representing the people of our State and nation.
While much of our community has a generally positive opinion of our politicians, this is not necessarily a universal view. From my exposure to parliamentarians over a long career in the public domain, I believe the sometimes negative perceptions about our elected representatives are ill-founded.
Often such views are formed without a full understanding of the shear breadth of work undertaken by our elected representatives for their constituents; from legislative work, committee work, the party work and work-related community and social engagements. Nor is there always an appreciation of the punishing travel schedule undertaken by many politicians, especially in a state the size of Queensland.
Parliamentarians, when asked why they run for office, often reply it is because they wish to contribute to the community and to make a difference - and in the main I believe this to be true.
We are very fortunate in Australia to live in a country which values freedom and the rule of law. It is our hard-working and dedicated parliamentarians who put the framework in place to protect and maintain this way of life, and then we ask the judges to uphold and promote the framework.
The sort of dedication to which I refer was well summed up as early as 1871, on the death of Gilbert Eliott who served for a decade as the inaugural Speaker of Queensland’s Parliament. The “Brisbane Courier” paid him the following tribute:
"The important public duties devolving upon him during those years he discharged with marked ability, his diligence and aptitude for details forming a fitting model for the imitation of younger men. He seemed to look upon a public trust as involving a question of duty rather than of self-interest or convenience."
Ladies and gentlemen I believe our current and former elected representatives have this same sense of duty and lack of self-interest. I take this opportunity to thank you all for the contributions you have made to our State and Nation over many years.
Now because we are not yet into December, I felt the festive element of these remarks should be limited. But I should nevertheless proceed this far, and that is to wish you all the very best for the forthcoming Festive Season.