Leader Of The Opposition Ceremonial Opening Of Parliament Speech

Here’s the Leader of the Opposition, Keith Azopardi’s speech from the Ceremonial Opening of Parliament:

We are delighted to support the Motion appointing Melvyn Farrell as the new Speaker of Parliament. 

Melvyn Farrell has been a distinguished civil servant with a long career in significant administrative posts – not least working closely with former Chief Minister – now Sir Joe Bossano and as Clerk to this House for eight years. The interpersonal skills he showed in the discharge of those roles required an ability to manage complex issues and people in difficult situations. We believe that he will bring those skills to bear in the sometimes emotionally and politically charged environment of this House in a way that will help us navigate Parliamentary business in an efficient way. 

From this side of the House we support his appointment and will work with him to try to assist in making his task easier. 

I also want to take this opportunity to acknowledge the contribution to the affairs of this House and indeed to public life of the outgoing Speaker Adolfo Canepa. 

Mr Canepa has held Gibraltar’s highest elected offices of Chief Minister and Leader of the Opposition. He was in Government for 16 years and in this House as an elected member for 20. He also served as Mayor and latterly over the last seven years as Speaker. He has given distinguished service to Gibraltar over 30 years. In many ways the majority of those years 1972-1988 in Government would have been very tough as a Minister – in charge of the public administration of Gibraltar with the frontier closed and without the unlocked economic potential of subsequent decades. It is a testimony to the work of Governments in those years within which Adolfo served that we were able to weather the storm of that political siege. We thank Adolfo for his service not just to this House latterly as Speaker but throughout his tenure holding the most important offices in Gibraltar. 

I congratulate Mr Speaker on your appointment. You are already familiar with the workings of this House from another chair – as former clerk for eight years. You also have deep experience of the inner workings of Government at very senior levels. We look forward to working with you in this new role. 

I understand Your Excellency is nearing the end of your tenure as Governor. On behalf of the Opposition I want to wish you and your family all the best for the future – in whatever challenges you will move on to. You have proved a good friend of Gibraltar and understood our aspirations which is the best compliment one can give a Governor of this place 

I want to acknowledge with thanks the appreciation of those on this side of the House to all civil servants who made the election a seamless affair – not least to the Clerk of this House and Returning Officer. Equally I want to thank all our candidates – especially those who were not elected this time and of course our friend and colleague Trevor Hammond who put in endless hours of work – especially on the Environment and will be sorely missed in this House. 

It is good to be back in the House. The last time I was here was 16 years ago on the opposite benches next to Sir Peter Caruana. It has not been an easy return. There have been detours, highs and lows along the way but I was hopeful of making a renewed contribution and I am grateful to GSD members – firstly – for having put their trust in me in 2017 and the electorate at large for having returned me to Parliament. 

My father would have been 83 today. He would have enjoyed seeing me in this position. He probably would have enjoyed more seeing me on the other side of this House. The Gibraltarians of my parents’ generation were the returning evacuees who struggled in the post-war decades and the years of frontier closure. They laid the foundation stones of modern Gibraltar. They agitated for better working conditions, for equality of treatment and against colonialism and discriminatory practices. They fought for self-government. 

I cannot claim that my parents played any leading role in any of those events. The opposite is true. They did not come from leading or wealthy families. They were not well-placed. My father left school at 15. My mother was a homemaker. They were ordinary working-class witnesses to all those events. What they did do is to give me a clear set of values, a commitment to hard work, a sense of fairness, a belief in meritocracy, a sense of rebellion against discrimination, colonialism & unfairness and an understanding of what it is to have very little. I saw and continue to see life from the perspective of working-class families. Those roots and that grounding influences everything I do in politics and where the GSD will stand in the political spectrum while I am its Leader. 

I am indebted to the hard work of all my predecessors to make the GSD what it is today. Sir Peter Caruana was, of course, the towering figure among GSD ranks for so many years and I worked closely with him in particular during my stint as his deputy. 

More recently I am especially grateful to my colleague Daniel Feetham for his sterling work as Opposition Leader, for his resilience and commitment to the GSD and his personal support of me since I became Leader in 2017. He has been a constant source of sensible advice and guidance. 

I also want to acknowledge the work of all GSD MPs in the last House and single out the contribution of Elliott Phillips who took the role of Parliamentary Leader loyally in unprecedented circumstances when he did not have the liberty to direct the entire orchestra. 

To a very large extent and while I have been GSD Leader for the last two years, I see my main role as starting now as it is only now that I am on an equal footing with everyone else. It is only now that I am in this House and can properly voice my views and be heard with the opportunities this role now gives me. Before now it was a bit like driving a car from the back seat. My real work therefore begins now. 

As I take the baton of this role and look across to the other side I am reminded that I started in politics all those years ago – in 1991 – with Fabian, Joseph and Damon among others. We were, then, young people concerned about our future. That political generation matured and emerged. We are on opposite sides of the House. We may disagree on many issues but I am also sure that there are plenty of issues that unite us on which we can work together for the common interest of all our people. 

A big shadow was cast over the last election we just celebrated – the dark shadow of BREXIT uncertainty which was played by the incumbent Government for all its worth during the campaign. Even though when we went round the estates or districts people wanted to talk about their housing concerns, employment or health issues it was also clear that for many people uncertainty preyed on their minds. This contributed to the result and indeed the way the campaign panned out. 

There are lessons for all of us in this election. We entirely respect the result of the election. The GSLP/Liberals were re-elected. But they were re-elected without the enthusiasm that had accompanied some of their previous wins. This was a muted win which scarcely concealed the underlying disenchantment in many quarters of their style of Government, their policies and their mistakes. 

It is a lesson too for us in Opposition. Many people wanted change. Despite the Government playing the BREXIT fear card to its fullest extent 46% of people voted for Opposition parties. But of course, a split in opposition votes only favoured the incumbent. It is for us to persuade the many people who already want change and the others who will come round to that view during the next four years to hold fast and not split their votes if they want change to be achieved. On the Opposition benches it is our collective responsibility to all those people who wanted change to ensure that we present a solid alternative at the next election. 

To do that we must capture the imagination once again and reflect on how we do Opposition politics. The GSD will do that that in coming years with a talented and diverse team of individuals inside and outside Parliament. 

I have been on all sides of election results in the past – on winning and losing sides. Like in general life it is often how you behave and what you draw from a defeat that marks you as a person and helps you transition as a Party. 

So it is important to learn lessons in victory and in defeat. But in doing so it is important to resist the temptation of trashing everything we stand for or that we did during the campaign. 

We fought a positive and constructive campaign. I am not going to change the style of my politics because I believe in it and I believe people want a different way of doing things. Shrill negative politics or hollow populism are not for me because they accelerate a race to the bottom via extreme, thoughtless or unprincipled positions. They also distract from what really needs to be done. I believe people want real solutions to their real problems so we will concentrate on presenting those. I want to restore political hope to people. 

That belief in a positive way of doing politics should not be confused with a lack of robustness. We will be robust when we need to be. We will call out mistakes and where we fundamentally disagree with the Government we will say so. We will not shirk from that role. I lay a marker here and now that we will relentlessly pursue the Government on issues of fairness and transparency and wastage of public monies. They should not expect that we will tolerate silently their excesses or failures to give answers or account to people. If they fail on housing or jobs or the health service they are not going to get a free ride from the GSD that I lead and they will not get a free ride from me. 

So the Chief Minister who had promised a new dawn and way of doing things in 2011 should not be surprised when I tell him that that was a false dawn for some people. That is not me making a politically partisan point. So much is clear from the many conversations we have had during this long campaign. From Gib 5 to the Upper Town we heard many stories of disappointment, dejection and dismay. If the re-elected Government truly wish to deliver a better way for all those people they will need to try much harder to govern for everyone fairly and equally. 

The GSD is a party with clear values and a long track record. On 14 December this year we celebrate our 30th anniversary. It is inevitable that when a party like ours that had a long spell in Government goes into Opposition it goes into a period of transition. It happened to the GSLP and inevitably to us. 

But if there is one big lesson that I have learned from the Father of the House Sir Joe Bossano it is that in politics it is important to have stamina. So we must stick the course and come back stronger after this election. We will reconnect with people and re-energise. We have done it before. When the GSD obtained 20% of the vote in 1992 it would have served no one if Peter Caruana had just given up. We persevered and came back stronger. In that task Opposition unity and strength of purpose is crucial. 

I am absolutely determined to deliver that strong alternative and no one should doubt the single-minded unified sense of purpose of this GSD team to ensure we emerge much stronger by the next election. We will and do have stamina. 

In offering a clear and strong alternative to Government over the next four years I also want to set out the principles that will influence our approach. We will offer a positive vision for the Gibraltar that we treasure. 

We will work with the Government – if they properly include us – on issues of public interest and where we have common ground. 

We will not hide from voicing our disagreement loudly where we think it is important to do so. 

Our politics will reflect the core values of the GSD modernized for our times. It will be a mainstream, centrist and progressive vision of social democracy. Protecting civil rights; fostering equality; enhancing conditions for working people; economically liberal and ensuring fairness, transparency, opportunity and value for money. 

We will continue the work of regenerating the Party further. We will seek to enthuse young people with our new core message and represent all sectors of our society as we have always sought to do. We will get out into the community as we have been doing already but with efforts redoubled. We will cover every estate or district or representative association in our outreach programme. We will be there for everyone. 

We will build on what was an extremely forward-looking and progressive manifesto at the last election full of good ideas on quality of life, better services, the environment, housing, workers’ rights, skills or mental health. The Chief Minister already said in his speech on election morning that he may pick some of the best ideas from all manifestos. We are glad he will do that in acknowledgement that the Government do not have a monopoly on good ideas or the public interest. 

We will work hard for the good of our people. We will represent all of our people and not just the people who voted for us. We will hold Ministers to account and scrutinize Government decisions. We will be critical and constructive in equal measure. Gibraltar will not find us wanting in our commitment. We will be bold in setting out our vision for the future. 

The talented team that we have in Parliament will be the immediate public face of the GSD Opposition. But we will combine that with the new energy and enthusiasm of other younger people who will play a public role in politics in the future. I believe our Parliamentary team has the strength and ability which will mark it as the clear alternative to Government. 

While BREXIT cast a shadow over the election I do not minimize its importance to our future. It is crucial we navigate the consequences of BREXIT successfully. The die is not yet cast as to whether we leave the EU with or without a deal. I said during the campaign that we consider that the Government lost an opportunity to negotiate a better set of temporary arrangements with the EU. Even so and despite our misgivings we prefer those deficient MOUs to no deal. If we leave with no deal [now or in the future] the Government’s continuous protestations that they are BREXIT ready will be put to the test. We have not been involved in those preparations to any meaningful extent. If there are fissures in preparation the Government can expect us to shine a bright light on these as it would be our duty to do. 

Whether we leave with or without a transitional deal the next question would be whether and if so what kind of permanent deal with the EU could be struck by the UK and indeed Gibraltar to replace existing arrangements. Here we are on sensitive ground not least because of the possibility [indeed some say likelihood] that Spain may exercise its pressure over our inclusion in permanent arrangements. Again we will monitor that emerging scenario carefully. We believe a good permanent agreement can be entered into with the EU. 

We are happy to work with Government if they seek our help on navigating BREXIT. This is not a moment for political pride or arrogance. This is a challenge of seminal importance to Gibraltar and a time for political leaders to show their ability to work together in the national interest as necessary. 

The GSD I lead will be strong on sovereignty and on the recognition of our international rights as a people. 

So I also want to express our willingness to attend the United Nations with the Chief Minister as part of a joint Gibraltar delegation. Again it is a matter for him but I make clear that we are willing to show a common front at international fora where Gibraltar’s interests are being discussed. Like was the case in the 1960s we are happy 

to face these international issues together. We may deeply disagree with the Government on domestic issues but it is safe to say we should be able to share a common view on the fundamental aspirations of our people. 

I have made no secret of the fact that I believe passionately in parliamentary reform. This will improve democratic accountability, the quality of decisions reached and the pool of talent of people influencing those decisions. We will therefore be pressing the Government on this agenda so that deep reforms are put in place to improve our democratic system. We are now one of the few places in the democratic world that is hampered by such a rudimentary system. We need to breathe life into our parliamentary system by radical reform and perhaps also electoral reform. 

In overall terms our approach will be energetic, modern, positive, constructive but yes also robust and critical where necessary. Gibraltar demands the vigour of tough Opposition and we will deliver that in fulfilment of our constitutional duty and the people that we serve. We will be the voice of the people in Opposition.