18 December 2023

'So many memories': Parliament House cleaner finishes last shift after 35 years

| James Coleman
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Prime Minister Anthony Albanese with a Parliament House cleaner

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese with Parliament House cleaner of 35 years Luzia Borges. Photo: Anthony Albanese.

When a new ambassador arrived at the Embassy of Finland in 1988 with a housemate in his entourage, Luzia Borges found herself without a job. Fortunately, there was a new building on the hill that needed her cleaning expertise.

“The next day, I went to Parliament House and there were some security guards standing around and I went up to them and said, ‘I’m looking for a job – I heard they’re employing people here?’ They said, ‘Oh, we know just where to take you.’

“They took me to the cleaner’s office, and the manager was there. He looked at me and asked, ‘When can you start?’ I said, ‘Tomorrow’.”

At the time, the finishing touches were being applied to the brand-new Parliament House and Bob Hawke was in the big seat. Luzia retired earlier this month after 35 years in the job. Or to put it another way, nine prime ministers.

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Luzia hails from Angola in central-west Africa. Formerly a colony, it wrestled control from Portugal and gained independence in 1975 as a communist one-party republic, only to descend into a devastating civil war the same year. It emerged a relatively stable republic – with a president and constitution – in 2002, but the Borges family had already fled.

“We stayed in Portugal a couple of years and then came to Australia, Darwin first, then Canberra,” Luzia says.

She still remembers her first day at Parliament House.

“It was a brand new building,” Luzia says.

“A lot of the builders were still there, in the press gallery building and fixing the timber floor.”

Tanya Plibersek

Tanya Plibersek farewelling Luzia Borges during the morning tea on Thursday, 30 November. Photo: Tanya Plibersek.

While cleaning the Channel 9 office, she met a “lovely man” by the name of Peter Harvey who always made a habit of greeting her after that and gifting her a Christmas card and bottle of champagne at the end of each year.

Within a year, her work had left such an impression on staff and visitors she was handed responsibility for the prime minister’s office.

“I said, ‘Yes, I will give it a try’ and I went there and never left.”

All of them – Bob Hawke, Paul Keating, John Howard, Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard, Tony Abbott, Malcolm Turnbull, Scott Morrison and, most recently, Anthony Albanese – called her by name. She also met former US president Barack Obama and Bill and Hillary Clinton.

“I was treated with a lot of respect. It doesn’t matter which side of the politics,” she recalls.

“It was more like one big family than anything else. So many memories.”

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The bubbly flowed again on Thursday, 30 November, when the Parliament House staff threw a farewell party for Luzia, now aged 67.

“I was sad. I’m still okay to work, but I need to spend time with my family and my husband Marcello as well, who retired 15 years ago. And I need to go overseas to see my family in Portugal.”

There was “a morning tea, a big bottle of champagne, and so many presents”. She also received a voucher for a weekend stay in Sydney in a “very expensive hotel”. Her daughter came from Brisbane for the occasion, and the rest of her family watched it online.

“It was just the most memorable day. Wonderful. The best of the best.”


Both sides of politics have paid tribute to cleaner Luzia Borges, who is retiring after 35 years of working at Parliament House since it opened in 1988. #auspol #news #australia

♬ original sound – SBS News

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese had some words to say, too.

“She is a hard worker, an absolute joy, and respected and admired by all who meet her,” he posted to social media.

“And when she retires next week, she will be sorely missed. Thank you, Luzia.”

Treasurer Jim Chalmers added, “Such a valued member of the parliament staff, Luzia has cleaned PM’s and Treasurers’ offices since Hawke-Keating (and bringing flowers from her garden for Treasurers each Budget day)”.

“I’ve come to know and appreciate her so much and I’ll miss her.”

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Peter Curtis9:22 pm 17 Dec 23

Saludos companera! Well done and well deserved! A great leader and unionist.

Albanese/Chalmers will forget her name within 3 days

… and your point being, Fp?

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