There’s been HEAPS going on since the federal budget was handed down a few weeks ago.
And we’ve got a mammoth last few weeks before parliament finishes for the year.
So let’s recap.
But first things first, some important messages and reminders.
On Sunday, members of our community came together for a candlelit vigil to remember brothers Pradyuth and Pranav Vivekanandan.
Unfortunately I was already on my way to visit constituents here on Norfolk Island (where I am today and tomorrow - more on that below) so wasn’t able to attend but my wife Emma and members of the team went along to pay our respects for what was such a terrible tragedy. I want to acknowledge the impact this has had on friends, on family and Canberra’s Indian community.
Last Wednesday, Emma and I attended another vigil for 15-year-old Cassius Turvey as part of an outpouring of love and solidarity that stretched from coast to coast across our giant continent.
There is a lot of grief at the loss of all three young people and the circumstances surrounding their deaths. Thank you to everyone who has come together to support each other through these difficult events.
Final Community Town Hall for 2022
On Wednesday I’ll be hosting my final Community Town Hall for 2022, from 6.30 - 7.30pm at Gungahlin Theatre, in Gungahlin College.
This is your chance to come along, ask questions, tell me what’s important to you, share feedback and learn more about what I’ve been working on for our community.
With industrial relations reform one of the hottest topics in town, federal Employment and Workplace Relations Minister Tony Burke has also offered to come along as our guest speaker for the evening and to answer questions.
The town halls have been such a great way to hear directly from you about the issues that matter most and I can’t wait to kick them off again next year with our first one being held in February in Belconnen.
Save the date 4 December: end of year celebration
It’s going to be a busy run up to the festive season but I want to take the time to get together and celebrate what has been a truly phenomenal year.
So keep the afternoon clear if you can on Sunday 4 December and we will be back in touch with further details of the end of year celebration soon.
Register here and the team will share more info shortly.
Some big legislative wins
A heap of legislation made it through the Senate in the last sitting week and my team and I were able to negotiate some great amendments with the government.
We saw legislation to put Registered Nurses in Aged Care 24/7 pass the Senate with some strong new safeguards around exemptions that I was able to agree with the Minster before the bill even made it to the Senate. You can watch my speech on this here.
Voting in support of new paid Family and Domestic Violence Leave was a special moment and I’d again like to thank everyone who participated in our roundtable on this legislation, including the frontline organisations who support our community 24/7.
A bill to establish Jobs and Skills Australia - a new body to help map out our future workforce needs - also made it through with a small but important amendment I secured government support on to explicitly recognise the role of universities. I spoke on that bill too.
Passage of an otherwise pretty uncontroversial PBS General Co-payment Bill provided me the chance to get an important commitment from the government on a longstanding issue around opiate dependence.
On average, three people die each day from an opiate overdose. Coronial reports have found that the cost of treatments contribute to these completely unnecessary deaths, because the current “Opiate Dependence Treatment Program” (ODTP) excludes these medicines from the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS).
Ironically, prescription opiates - the major source of the problem - are largely eligible for PBS subsidies. So, it’s actually cheaper for people to stay addicted rather than access treatment. It’s just bad policy.
I was able to secure a commitment from the Minister to reform the ODTP, to make these medicines more affordable and accessible. I also moved an amendment, which puts a timeline on this reform. A new ODTP must now be in place by July next year - and I will be keeping a close eye to see that it does improve conditions for people wanting treatment.
I got to speak on a Private Senators bill about saving our koalas and the need for governments to do more - and invest more - in the protection of our unique native flora and fauna.
I did a heap of media interviews about fossil fuel sponsorship in sport and the role of sportspeople as advocates, here’s a longer form conversation I had with Waleed Aly and Scott Stephens exploring the issue.
The other, really critical issue I spoke about in parliament was the need to raise the rate of Jobseeker. People can not live on $48 a day. The government recognised this fact in opposition but now they’re in power have failed to address the issue. It’s something I will keep pushing on behalf of our community as I know it is something you care deeply about.
Last week I got to participate in Senate Estimates for the first time and I want to say a massive thanks again to the incredibly smart and insightful Team Pocock vols who helped prep me for this.
It was a real eye opener and as an Independent Senator quite the logistical challenge, hopping between four different committees to try and maximise the opportunity.
I appreciated the chance to question the highly skilled and expert members of our public service across a whole variety of topics and get some deeper insights into the delivery of a number of government programs.
My team’s digging led to the discovery of a zombie agency in the health portfolio, a real life ‘Utopia’ moment for sure.
There are just 8 sitting days left in the parliamentary calendar for this year, although there’s plenty of talk around the traps that the government may schedule a few more, which is certainly something I’ve been pushing for.
There is an absolute truckload of legislation still to get through this year, including some really big and important reforms. I want to make sure we have time to get them right.
Some highlights below:
National Anti-Corruption Commission
A Joint House and Senate Select Committee on National Anti-Corruption Commission Legislation (of which I was a participating member) tabled its report last Thursday on the bill to FINALLY establish a federal integrity body with real power.
The report includes a number of joint recommendations from Dr Helen Haines and from me, including removing the “exceptional circumstances” requirement for public hearings.
The bill will now make its way through the House of Representatives and up to the Senate, where I will move amendments to secure the strongest possible integrity commission.
The Government has committed to bringing on a vote this year on legislation to restore our rights to debate and decide legislation on voluntary assisted dying for ourselves.
We absolutely cannot let our best ever chance of righting this decades-old wrong slip away. Opponents of the bill are escalating their lobbying efforts, and while we have the numbers to secure a “Yes” vote now, I’m worried that if we leave it any longer we will lose that majority.
You may have seen some media coverage about a bill the government is bringing to exempt low or no emissions cars from fringe benefits tax (FBT).
I am arguing that the cost of plug-in-hybrids should not be reduced by taxpayers. There is convincing evidence that plug-in-hybrids are often not plugged in, which means they actually use a lot of petrol. This is particularly true in fleets, where this policy will have the greatest effect.
Removing plug-in-hybrids would save $1 billion over a decade, which could be better spent on badly needed technologies such as charging infrastructure, or other incentives for zero emissions vehicles.
The whole point of the policy is to accelerate uptake of electric vehicles in fleets to create a second hand EV market in a few years. With the government promising investment in charging infrastructure, including every 150 km on highways, we need a second hand market of zero emissions vehicles, not the legacy technology of plug-in-hybrids.
Let’s see where we land!
Industrial Relations Omnibus
Last week, the Government passed a massive Industrial Relations omnibus bill, with over 20 different measures in it, through the House of Representatives.
We don’t yet know when it will come before the Senate, but the Government has said it wants the bill passed this year.
Pay rises are long overdue, particularly in certain low-paid industries, but we need to get changes right.
That’s why I moved a motion to allow the Senate Committee time to properly consult with stakeholders and scrutinise the bill.
I was defeated by just one vote so we’re now in the midst of a very short (3 week) senate inquiry for a very big, and far-reaching bill. Many have echoed my concerns about it being rushed without time to consult on changes.
Already there have been more than 150 amendments with more to come.
My team and I have been getting across the bill, combing through submissions while consulting with unions, workers, academics and businesses.
There’s some great stuff in there and I’ve told the government they have my support to pass those aspects ASAP. There are other parts I’m still unsure about and so will continue to work through with them.
Visit to Norfolk
As I mentioned earlier, I’m currently on Norfolk Island continuing the discussion on how I can help advocate for some overdue changes.
The Island has serious freight problems, and it’s been shocking to see that even after nearly six months, the shelves at the local supermarket are still largely bare.
Minister McBain is hosting an important Shipping Forum today, and I will be attending as an independent observer. This is the greatest challenge facing the Island, its economy and its security - and any solution will require Commonwealth investment. As such, I think it’s important to be here for the discussions; to listen, to learn, and to ensure any commitments are delivered on by the government.
I also had the chance to visit Doris the Turtle; a Green turtle that is in a bad way. The Marine Parks service found her eight weeks ago with a severe infection, which has eaten away at her shell and her body.
Turtles are a “keystone species” that are critical for flourishing marine food webs. Seeing their decline is a powerful reminder of the need for us to enact better policies to protect habitats as well as individual endangered species.
The Norfolk community has come together to save Doris, scraping together supplies, volunteer rosters and medicines from other islands in the region. I still have a lot to learn about Norfolk, but it’s clear that this is a community that cares deeply not just for one another, but its lands, waters and wildlife.
Two final thoughts on reform
Recently, the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters published my submission into the 2022 federal election. You can read it here and huge thanks again to Glenn and the many other volunteers and experts who helped pull it together.
You’ll see it sets out the arguments for everything from better representation for the ACT to donations reform.
On this last point, I’ll be disclosing all donors above the threshold and overall campaign expenditure next February, together with the other parties and in accordance with requirements.
Time to tax war profits
I’m also ramping up my efforts to convince the government to properly capture the value of Australia’s resources for Australians, especially given the wartime profits of fossil fuel companies.
I don’t accept on the one hand the government saying we can’t afford to lift 3 million Australians out of poverty while on the other refusing to contemplate sensible reforms to the ways we tax our resources.
With the critical minerals sector about to absolutely take off and Australia again in a unique position to benefit from this, we need to act now to put in place the right settings for our future prosperity.
That’s all for now. I’ll hopefully see you at my Town Hall on Wednesday.