Mr BROADBENT (McMillan) (19:54):  Once upon a time, a certain town grew up at the foot of a mountain range. It was sheltered in the lee of protected heights, so the wind that shuddered at the doors and flung handfuls of sleet against the window panes was a wind whose fury was spent.

High up in the hills, a strange and quiet forest dweller took it upon himself to be the keeper of the springs. He patrolled the hills and wherever he found a spring he cleaned its brown pool of silt and fallen leaves of mud and mould, and he took away from the spring all foreign matter so that the water which bubbled up through the sand ran down clean and cold and pure. It leaped sparkling over rocks and dropped joyously in crystal cascades until, swollen by other streams, it became a river of life to the busy town—a popular attraction for tourists from all over the world. Millwheels were whirled by its rush. Gardens were refreshed by its waters. Fountains threw it like diamonds into the air. Swans sailed on its limpid surface, and children laughed as they played on its banks in the sunshine.

But the city council was a group of hard-headed, hard-boiled businessmen. They scanned the civic budget and found in it the salary of a keeper of the springs. Said the keeper of the purse: why should we pay this romance ranger? We never see him; he is not necessary to our town’s work. If we build a reservoir just above the town, we can dispense with his services and save his salary. Therefore, the city council voted to dispense with the unnecessary cost of a keeper of the springs, and to build a cement reservoir.

So the keeper of the springs no longer visited the brown pools but watched from the heights while they built the reservoir. When it was finished, it soon filled up with water, to be sure, but the water did not seem to be the same. It did not seem to be as clean, and a green scum soon befouled its stagnant surface. There were constant troubles with the delicate machinery of the mills for it was often clogged with slime, and the swans found another home above the town. At last, an epidemic raged, and the clammy, yellow fingers of sickness reached out into every home. And the tourists disappeared.

The city council met again. Sorrowfully, it faced the city’s plight and frankly acknowledged the mistake of the dismissal of the keeper of the springs. They sought him out of his hermit’s hut high in the hills and begged him to return to his former joyous labour. Gladly, he agreed, and he began once more to make his rounds. It was not long until the pure water came lilting down under tunnels of ferns and mosses and to sparkle in the cleansed reservoir. Millwheels turned again as of old. Stenches disappeared. Sickness waned and convalescent children playing in the sun laughed again because the swans had come back. And the tourists returned.’

That was the beginning of a sermon by Peter Marshall called The Keeper of the Springs. Who are these keepers of the springs? They are those who so generously contacted me over the last couple of weeks. They are those who help me do my job behind the scenes—you know who you are. It is the clerk and the assistant clerk, and their teams. It is the committee staff, the transport staff, the library staff, the department staff, the gardeners, cleaners, security, caterers—all the best, Tim, in your new endeavours—and the ministerial staff who help us to do our job. They are the keepers of the springs. My staff—Jennifer, Prue, Millie, Laurie, Matt and Ken—and my co-chair of Friends of Multiculturalism, Maria Vamvakinou: you are the keepers of the springs. My colleagues in this House—Independent, Green, Labor, Lib and Nat—help me do my job. To the Prime Minister and opposition leader, and all those who work in the best interests of the Australian people, you are the keepers of the springs.

God bless you all and keep you this Christmas. Thank you to every one of you for the work you do on our behalf. You may not be seen but you are the keepers of the springs.