Chloe Burton was primed for an action-packed day in Parliament after being invited to follow Richard Torbay on the day of the NSW mini-budget. She was completely unprepared, however, for the organised mayhem that was a day behind the scenes with the Speaker of the House.
Being offered the chance to follow the esteemed Speaker of the House, the Hon. Richard Torbay MP, as he navigates his way through the NSW mini-budget is an exciting prospect for a keen student of politics, and is not an opportunity that comes along often. It was with this view that I arrived at the Parliament of New South Wales in Sydney, with the hope of gaining some insight into Richard Torbay’s eventful life. It is with great admiration that I recall my experience.
9:00am I arrive at Parliament at 9:00am and enter through the door reserved for members of the public. I report to the front desk and declare a little proudly that I am expected at the Speaker’s office. I learn that while my day was just commencing, Richard was several hours into his already, having risen early to begin radio interviews at 5:40am. His appointment as the next Chancellor of UNE had created a huge amount of public interest, and the media was bound to feature strongly in the day.
9:10am Richard is due to give a welcome speech at the State Government Familiaristaion Programme. He makes his way to a conference room and confidently walks to the podium, where, without even needing to look at his notes, he has the group laughing heartily at his amusing anecdotes.
9:20am The Speaker returns to his office, and with the help of media manager Rosemary Mort, drafts a response to the mini-budget to be announced later in the day. Faxes of media reports detailing the appointment of Richard as Chancellor at UNE come through on the fax, and he and the office staff discuss their content. The NSW Treasurer calls Richard, warning that the mini-budget is a difficult one and is unlikely to meet with a positive response in Parliament.
9:40am Richard checks his Blackberry to find that he has 27 messages. Making a list of each one, he begins to return the calls, but is interrupted by Parliamentarians dropping into or calling the office to ask about procedural and other matters. Richard’s open door policy when it comes to these matters and his position as an Independent make him approachable to all members of Parliament.
10:10am A wreath is delivered to the office, and Richard prepares to walk to the 90th Anniversary Remembrance Day Service to be held at The Cenotaph in Martin Place. Arriving at the Cenotaph, Richard is appropriately seated in the front row between Premier Nathan Rees and Opposition Leader Barry O’Farrell. With television cameras rolling, Richard lays his wreath on behalf of the Parliament. After the service, we walk back up the hill to Parliament. I am surprised to be surrounded by members of both the Government and the Opposition, who are chatting amiably and making jokes. Richard assures me that question time won’t be quite so friendly, with fireworks expected following the mini-budget announcement. I am rather star struck when Lord Mayor of Sydney, Clover Moore joins the group and chats to Richard on the way back to Parliament.
11:55am The bells sound for the MPs to make their way to the legislature for the mini-budget announcement, and I take a seat in the public gallery to watch. Most of the details had been released in the morning’s papers, but Treasurer Eric Roozendaal is challenged with the task of announcing the details while facing a cantankerous Opposition. When he begins his speech by outlining the difficult economic circumstances in which the budget was created, it is clear that there are aspects that will not be well received by the Opposition and public. Although I am later told that the sitting was unexpectedly tame, Richard expertly silenced interjections with cries of “Order! The House will come to order!” and at one point demanded that “Members will cease calling out! We might be able to hear what the Treasurer is in fact announcing.”
12:40pm Richard spends some time organising media releases for constituent issues. After returning some more phone calls he is still only a quarter of the way through his messages. I am surprised to learn that he makes a point of returning each call on the same day, irrespective of the importance of the mater or the person calling. It is not an easy task.
12:45pm Richard has offered the use of the Speaker’s dining room for a TAS function, and guests begin arriving. He is due at the Familiarisation Programme lunch, where he is to present awards. I sit down to a three-course lunch in the Parliament’s restaurant and watch Richard make conversation with the attendees before effortlessly addressing the room and handing out certificates. With barely time to finish dessert, I follow Richard back to his office to prepare for Question Time.
2:15pm Richard takes the chair and the sitting begins. Rees and O’Farrell make Ministerial Statements about Remembrance Day before the questions start. What follows is a series of entertaining performances from a number of MPs, and I am surprised by the Premier’s wit and oration. Richard once again controls the House, and at one point puts all MPs who had been previously warned on their third and final notice. The noise levels instantly drop, and question time concludes without further incident. At 3:30pm Richard vacates the chair.
3:50pm A journalist and cameraman arrive to film an interview that is to be fed to Prime News programs throughout the state. Richard is obviously well used to the procedure and speaks with a great degree of confidence and authority, throwing in some characteristic humour and charm before the duo leave. Within minutes he is doing an ABC radio interview over the phone. The next two hours are filled with much of the same, and between radio interviews Richard happily deals with continual visits from other Parliamentarians.
6:00pm Richard is due at a cocktail party to welcome the new Consul-General of Britain, Mr Richard Morriss to the city, but is told he will be required in the chair at 7:00pm. Government MP Tony Stewart is to give a personal explanation to the House after being accused of improper conduct. Richard takes the chair, and Stewart declares that the allegations against him are false, and that he refuses to resign as the Premier has asked him to do.
7:15pm Richard, along with Margaret from his office and I, are driven to the home of the British Consul-General. We are handed drinks on arrival and shown to the courtyard, where around 50 of Sydney’s diplomats and businesspeople are gathered to hear speeches from the host and the British High Commissioner, Mrs Helen Liddell. Richard liaises with the guests, including (among others) Consul-Generals from countries such as Italy, Germany, Croatia, and the USA. He urges them all to visit New England and makes several appointments for meetings in the coming months. He takes his leave at around 9:00pm.
9:00pm As we drive to Richard’s apartment to drop him home, I am struggling to keep my eyes open, and I feel a little overwhelmed by the day’s proceedings. Despite the demanding day in Parliament, Richard has maintained his happy disposition and jokes around on the way home. He still has many phone calls to make before he gets some sleep. I thank him for allowing me to gain an insight into his life, and I feel incredibly glad that unlike him, I won’t have to wake up and do it all again tomorrow. I now have a huge appreciation for the work Richard does for our electorate and think we are incredibly fortunate to have such a passionate representative for our community – and a man who is so well respected in Parliament – as our state MP. It was not my initial intention to praise him such, but after witnessing a day in his life, I feel I am left with little choice.