Including today, there are just 14 more days left this year for the Senate to consider legislation.
And one of the things I’ve learnt in my few months on the job so far is things don’t happen fast in the red chamber!
That’s why last Friday following the condolence motion for Her Majesty, I asked my Senate colleagues to sit for just one more day this week - Monday to Thursday rather than finishing on Wednesday - so we could keep moving through legislation given everyone would be back here in Canberra anyway and have already had any school holiday plans disrupted.
My request was rejected by the Government, the Opposition and the Greens.
Having spent a day on condolence speeches, in accordance with protocol, we have lost a full day of sitting.
And we didn’t really have time to lose.
By my calculation, the Senate will be considering legislation for 29 days this year, compared to New Zealand and Canada who will sit for 90 and 120 days respectively.
Making time for Territory Rights
Obviously a key focus for me is making sure we have time to conclude the debate on the Restoring Territory Rights Bill 2022 and bringing that on for a vote.
We have the numbers now but it’s tight and I’m really worried that if it gets pushed off to next year we might lose some of that precious but precarious support over the summer.
I’ve been negotiating with both the government and the opposition to try and carve out some extra time to debate territory rights in the Senate.
Frustratingly, I haven’t gotten very far with the government saying they have other priorities. Today I’ll be putting forward a motion to enable the Senate to finish second reading speeches on Territory Rights tomorrow night.
Let’s hope it gets up. I’ll keep you posted as things progress.
A jam-packed legislative agenda
I agree there’s a lot of urgent business for the Senate to debate and some really crucial pieces of legislation coming through but we should be able to consider both Territory Rights and these other, time-sensitive bills too.
Chief among them will be legislation to require an RN 24/7 onsite in residential aged care facilities and it was great to have worked collaboratively with the Minister on improving this bill.
Another bill I have been pushing the government to improve is around FBT exemptions for electric vehicles (EVs).
I am asking the government to exclude plug-in hybrids (PHEVs).
Do I hate hybrids? No.
Do I think we should be spending a billion dollars over the next decade subsidising a vehicle that ‘real world use’ studies show use their petrol around half of the time? Also no.
This bill is a tax break for wealthier Australians and so should be used to speed up the transition to EVs and help create a second hand EV market in 3 years, not a second hand PHEV market.
This is a tricky one but consulting with experts it’s clear that subsidising PHEVs in the way proposed by this bill will likely slow down rather than speed up the transition to EVs. There have been concerns raised about range and the need for PHEVs to deal with this, but the government committed to installing EV charging stations every 150km on major roads, which should be a priority.
Clearly the biggest lever we have to pull in making EVs more accessible and affordable is by introducing fuel efficiency standards (as one of only two OECD not to have them) and I will keep lobbying the government to get cracking on that one too.
Later this morning Pauling Hanson’s One Nation will be moving to bring a vote on their private senator’s bill Offshore Petroleum and Greenhouse Gas Storage Amendment (Benefit to Australia) Bill 2020. I have committed to examining every piece of legislation that comes before the senate on its merits, regardless of who proposes it, and how it affects us in the ACT. Having examined it in some detail, this bill has merit and deserves support.
The Government is also hoping to pass a really critical bill that will bring in 10 days paid family and domestic violence leave. I held a roundtable at the beginning of August consulting on the detail and implementation of this legislation and look forward to supporting it.
A bill dealing with out-of-pocket costs for child care is due to be debated in the house (but we still need to do more on pay for early childhood educators) and the bills to set up Jobs and Skills Australia as well as a High Speed Rail Authority are also flagged for debate.
Two other big ticket pieces of legislation are on the agenda.
Repeal of the Cashless Debit Card
Last week I promised an update on the Cashless Debit Card (CDC), and it’s a big one.
Behind the scenes, I have been pushing hard for changes that would end compulsory income management, while also providing a voluntary option that actually works in the way communities want it to.
Following a bunch of discussions I’ve been having with them, the government has agreed to a range of changes to the Cashless Debit Card Repeal Bill and other measures to address concerns raised during the senate inquiry process and deliver much better outcomes to affected communities.
Through the Senate Inquiry into this Bill, it became clear that just repealing the CDC and moving people onto the BasicsCard was not going to work.
The Social Services Minister announced yesterday that the government would:
- Transition some 17,800 people off the CDC, starting from 4 October (provided the bill gets through the parliament this week)
- Invest $49.9 million in additional drug and alcohol treatment services
- Provide $17 million to communities to support more employment opportunities
- Have more Services Australia staff on hand to assist with the transition
In a really big breakthrough, the government is also going to make sure people wanting to transition to a voluntary system that utilises local decision making will be able to access better tech than just the basics card.
I’m very pleased the Government has taken up my suggestions, which were raised with me by stakeholders in affected communities in the Northern Territory and Queensland.
I’ll be watching the implementation closely, and will continue to consult with communities on whether these new systems are working for them and in the way they need it to.
Minister Rishworth has invited me to participate in co-design activities with CDC communities going forward and I thank her for her constructive engagement on this important reform.
Transparency at the top of the list
On Wednesday, the government is set to introduce the long awaited legislation to establish a national anti-corruption commission.
Over the past few months I have attended a number of roundtables with the Attorney-General where we discussed design principles for the integrity commission and I highlighted what our community considers key features.
How much of this feedback the government has taken on board remains unclear as they have chosen not to release an exposure draft of the legislation.
Of some concern are reports that the government might be looking to cut a deal with the Coalition of the final form the commission might take.
In conversations with the people of the ACT it is clear that there is a frustration at the lack of integrity in politics. Across the country trust in politicians and public officials is at an all time low. It’s no wonder, as our global ranking in the Corruption Perception Index has fallen markedly since 2012.
During the election campaign I was clear about the need for a strong and independent federal integrity commission. We need this institution to weed out bad actors, and to restore public trust.
The crossbench is standing firm and united in demanding our communities are given the gold standard commission we deserve and I have added my name to this joint statement.
Once introduced, the bill is expected to be referred to a committee inquiry and I will be working through that process to push for a strong and independent commission.
There are two other transparency issues I want to touch on.
The first is superannuation.
Clear disclosure on super fees
Today I will be moving a motion in the senate to disallow a recent change by the government that winds back transparency around superannuation fund reporting requirements.
We need more transparency, not less. Especially when it comes to Australia’s $3.3 trillion superannuation industry.
I believe super fund members should be able to see where their fees go, how that money, their money, is spent.
I have listened to the arguments from both sides of this debate. You can read more about this here.
The second matter is a more local one looking at Light Rail.
Counting the cost
My comments last week raising concerns about the lack of transparency around the cost and timelines for the planned Light Rail Stage 2 project has generated a lot of debate.
I fully support moving to faster, more sustainable transport options as quickly as possible, especially in the underserviced south. However, we need to know what the budget impact is going to be.
Across our community people have raised concerns with me about public infrastructure under pressure, especially in the health sector.
There is also a lot of pent-up demand for territory-building projects, including community sports infrastructure, a new national convention centre, a stadium and spaces for our growing multicultural communities to gather.
It’s difficult to have informed discussions on these matters, when we don’t know how much is being spent on this project. Given how tight budgets are, both federally and in the ACT, transparency around costs and priorities is key to understanding what can be accomplished for Canberrans.
I’ve had some great conversations with Community Councils, Greater Canberra and the Public Transport Association of Canberra, and will keep consulting with our community and the ACT Government on this project moving forward.
Keeping the conversation going
You may have seen our September Town Hall in Tuggeranong caught the attention of the Canberra Liberals.
While Mr Hanson may not have been happy about our consultation, the turnout was terrific as was the chance to hear directly from people about the issues that matter to them.
Our next one is in November in Gungahlin followed by Belconnen in February for the first one next year.
There are a range of other more specific consultations we have in the works too and I’ll be sharing more details on these shortly
- Electrify everything/suburb zero launch
- Early educators roundtable
- Biodiversity market roundtable
- Community sport roundtable
Thanks also to everyone who sent in stories for the condolence motion as well as suggestions on how you’d like to see the conversation about our future governance arrangements taken forward.
Senator David Pocock