It has been a big few weeks with Canberra buzzing for the Multicultural Festival, Enlighten and the Canberra Show. It was great to see so many people out and about.
I’ve loved the chance to get involved in a bunch of community events while also working on negotiations around some big upcoming legislation.
Wrap of recent events
On Wednesday, my team had a stall at the Seniors Expo at EPIC. I popped out to say hi between Senate committee hearings and loved chatting about everything from home care packages to community infrastructure and Men’s Sheds.
Thanks to everyone who came over to say hello, and a big thank you to Jenny Mobbs (our ACT Senior Woman of the Year) and the team at Council on the Aging (COTA) ACT for putting this event on.
It was so fantastic to see that this year’s Canberra Show was the most attended show in its history!
We had a marquee there all weekend and had hundreds of conversations with Canberrans. It was great to hear from the community about some of their concerns in relation to cost of living pressures, housing, climate change, transport, aged care and other areas.
Congratulations to 11 year-old Oli who won the drawing competition. We’ll organise to get you your prize very soon! Thanks to everyone who got involved. And thanks so much to Sarah and all the incredible volunteers who spent hours of their weekend on the stall.
We’ve also started a Community Tree, which is made up of leaves filled with messages from members of the community. If you would like to fill one in, get in touch.
We also had a stall on the Sunday of the incredible Multicultural Festival. After a couple of year break due to Covid, Multi Fest was back with a bang. Thanks to all of the amazing volunteers who were at the stall answering questions and listening to people about issues and things they’d like me to work on. We were also joined by the energetic volunteers from Suburb Zero - a group of Canberrans racing to electrify Canberra to fight both rising costs of living and climate change. They’re doing such great work pushing to ensure electrification benefits all households by reducing energy bills. The average Canberra household can save over $3000/year - a huge opportunity!
It’s been great visiting more of the incredible small businesses operating across Canberra over the past few weeks. There is so much important work and world-leading innovation happening here in the ACT. I’ve visited cutting-edge recycling tech ANU spinoff Samsara’s who’ve developed a recycling process that strips plastic products of dyes and additives to make them recyclable; and Goterra who are using autonomous insect farms to convert food waste into protein and fertiliser.
I visited some other fast-moving startups including CSIRO spinoff Nourish Ingredients, who are developing plant-based lipids; Wing, who are using Canberra as ‘pilot’ for their now-global drone delivery service and intend to continue doing all their R&D here; and ANU-based Syenta who are using electrochemistry to develop an electronics printer capable of democratising electronics manufacturing.
It was also a pleasure to visit local favourites like BentSpoke, whose Mitchell cannery is now the most technical brewery of its size in Australia; Watson Group, whose third-generation owners Rohan and Tim Watson have recently relocated their manufacturing and management operations to a very impressive new facility in Hume; and GG’s Giving Purpose, an iconic social enterprise known across Canberra for their flowers and hampers and the incredibly special people who deliver them. I loved spending time with the team there and posted a short video on social media from my visit.
Thank you to all the small business owners who have welcomed me and my team into their offices and facilities in recent weeks and months. If you know of a business that would like to host me for a visit, please get in touch with my small business advisor, Tom.
Big sitting fortnight coming up
We have a huge couple of weeks ahead of us with the government hoping to get some big pieces of legislation through. Thanks to everyone who has reached out with concerns or suggestions about various Bills or policies that have been discussed. Here is a quick overview of the four big ones and where things are at with them:
The Safeguard Mechanism is a complex policy that has the potential to significantly reduce emissions from the industrial sector, which is responsible for 28% of Australia’s total emissions. But we have to get it right.
Over the last couple of months, I have consulted with our community, and with key stakeholders. I held two roundtable discussions, and attended two days of Senate committee hearings. You can read my additional comments to the Environment and Communications Committee report if you’re interested in the details of what I think.
Negotiations with the government on the proposed reforms have been intense and detailed, and I will continue to have conversations with Minister Bowen and push the government on ambition and integrity.
My aim in negotiations is to improve the policy so that we can have confidence that it will actually reduce emissions. We need our biggest emitters to do their fair share and decarbonise as quickly as practicable, while ensuring that strategically important industries are not put at risk.
National Reconstruction Fund
The $15bn National Reconstruction Fund (NRF) aims to rebuild Australia’s sovereign manufacturing capability in priority funding areas. Its goal is to transform industry and the economy, creating the next generation of jobs for the future through a range of different financing mechanisms.
While broadly supportive of what the NRF sets out to do, I’ve been speaking with Minister Husic about a range of potential amendments to strengthen the bill. I particularly want to make sure that the ACT’s stellar tech and start up sector can leverage the NRF to reach the potential we know is on offer across a huge range of local businesses.
Housing Australia Future Fund
The HAFF is a commitment to build 30,000 social and affordable houses over the next 5 years by setting up a $10 billion dollar investment fund that aims to deliver $500 million per year in returns to be invested in new supply.
Last week I participated in the Senate committee inquiry into the legislation. Many stakeholders, while welcoming more federal government investment in social housing, raised serious concerns about design elements and the adequacy of the fund to deliver the promised number of new homes.
Testimony from multiple witnesses underscored that while 30,000 homes over 5 years is a start, it’s not enough to even begin to deal with the unmet and growing need we are seeing for social and affordable housing across the country. I’ve written about this and raised it with the government. We need to be more ambitious - we can’t afford not to be - and I’ll be pushing, alongside other crossbenchers, for more ambition in the Senate.
Separate to the HAFF, I have been asking the Housing Minister & Govt to reverse their proposed $65 million cut from frontline homelessness services at a time where we are seeing increasing demand for services and so many people doing it tough in our communities.This funding cut will mean 650 less frontline homelessness service jobs around the country, including here in the ACT.
Referendum Machinery Bill
This bill is quite literally what it sounds like. The government wants to change how the mechanics of referendums work to bring it more in line with elections so that voters have much the same experience as when we vote in elections, including pre-poll, etc.
I will be supporting this bill but I will also be moving a number of amendments to try and improve it. While I am hopeful these amendments will receive some support, I’m realistic that they are unlikely to get enough support to get over the line in the face of major party opposition.
The three main amendments are:
‘Real-time’ donation disclosures - It is really important from a transparency perspective that when we go to the polls to vote on this potential change to our Constitution we know who has funded the yes and no campaigns.
We need to see this same transparency in federal elections too. It’s not much good finding out eight months after who funded each campaign.
While literal real-time disclosure systems are a little way off we’ve proposed a 14-day timeline that will be workable and will massively increase transparency. Seven days to submit a donations disclosure declaration and seven days for it to be made public. The technology is available to make 14-day disclosure possible and we think the Referendum is a great way to trial them.
Exclusion Zones - Referenda, like, elections, can be emotive and tumultuous events. A number of jurisdictions, including the ACT and Tasmania, establish zones around polling places in which certain activities are prohibited, like handing out how to votes or other behaviour designed to influence others. This amendment proposes setting up similar zones nationally for the referendum.
- Fact checking of the pamphlet - the government has decided to proceed with an official pamphlet consistent with previous referenda outlining the official ‘yes’ and ‘no’ cases, despite concerns raised by the Referendum Working Group. The pamphlet is written by parliamentarians and contains up to 2000 words for each side of the debate. The final wording of the ‘yes’ and ‘no’ cases is decided by majority vote of the parliamentarians who voted yes or no on the referendum question. In response to concerns raised by the Referendum Working Group, I am proposing the pamphlet should then have to go through an independent fact checking process to ensure the information that is going to be sent to every single home in the country is factually correct and isn’t misleading or discriminatory. Truth in political advertising is fundamental to a strong democratic system and this could be the first step towards that for all future elections.
Standing up for Subbies, PPL inquiry, Climate Action BBQ and #IWD2023
Security of Payments is a major issue for subcontractors. Far too often, subbies miss out on being paid for work they have done.
The recent entry of local building company PBS into voluntary administration owing some 1000 creditors an estimated $25 million, highlighted again how urgent it is that governments take action to better protect subbies.
Already this year more than 1300 construction companies have gone bust and here in the ACT we have some of the weakest security of payment laws in the country
But this isn’t a new issue. In 2017 John Murray handed a comprehensive set of recommendations following an in-depth national inquiry into security of payments. It’s a report that still hasn’t been responded to.
The ALP made a commitment to tackle this issue in their 2019 pre-election platform. Since the election I have secured a commitment from the PM to respond this term of government and from Minister Burke that it will be the first issue addressed by the new National Construction Industry Forum when it is convened. These reforms - especially a strengthening and harmonisation of national laws together with the establishment of statutory trusts - are urgent.
Together with Senators Lambie and Tyrrell, I’ve also secured a commitment from government to hold a senate inquiry into the burden administering Commonwealth Paid Parental Leave places on small business.
Paid parental leave has been a game change for workforce participation but as the scheme expands and we look to also include a superannuation component down the track, we need to be mindful of the cost to small business in administering payments on behalf of the government.
Last sitting week I was also delighted to host an incredible community event with the Climate Action Network Australia. Ten members of the community came from all around Australia in support of strengthening the Safeguard Mechanism. The community members were flood and fire survivors, doctors, parents and representatives from across ethnic and social groups. It was great to hear their passionate advocacy for stronger action on climate change.
It was great to also mark International Women’s Day both with some fun, joining Diamond Madi Browne for a friendly game of parliamentary netball, and a more serious reflection and recognition with the unveiling of the Dame Enid Lyons and Dame Dorothy Tagney statues. More of this please!
Roundtable on marketing to children
During my campaign and since being elected, I’ve heard concerns from our community about the number of ads children are seeing for gambling, alcohol and junk food.
A couple of weeks ago I held a roundtable with public health experts, digital rights experts and advertising researchers to understand the problem in more detail. It is a tricky space, and the Roundtable has left me with more questions, but it does appear that kids are seeing ads for gambling and alcohol in their social media feeds and on TV.
I think we can all agree that kids shouldn’t be seeing ads for alcohol and gambling, and the large number of junk food ads is also a concern. I plan on asking some more questions to understand the problem in more detail and what work is underway to address this federally.
If you have questions of your own, or want to share your perspective on this matter, please get in touch!
Launch of Parliamentary Friends of Clean Investment
On 21 March 2023, my colleagues Senator Grogan, Senator Bragg and I will launch a Parliamentary Friends of Clean Investment group.
Attracting and deploying capital at the speed and scale required to meet the climate challenge will require unprecedented collaboration between Australia’s Parliament, public service and private sector.
The group provides a non-partisan forum for critical conversations about capital, climate change and clean investment.
Parliamentary Friends of Housing
We had our second Parliamentary Friends of Housing (a group I co-chair with Member for Moncrieff, Angie Bell, and the Member for Macnamara, Josh Burns) meeting where the Minister spoke about the HAFF legislation and Tim Lawless from Core Logic gave a very sobering overview of the current challenges in the housing sector and the need for ambition when it comes to building social and affordable housing.
Come learn about the Voice to parliament
The upcoming referendum is going to be a defining moment in our history.
I’m hosting a Referendum and Voice to Parliament Information Night on Friday March 31, 5:30-7:30pm, at the National Arboretum. I’ll be joined by Referendum Council Co-Chair Aunty Pat Anderson AO, and constitutional lawyer and UN Human Rights Council member, Professor Megan Davis for a conversation facilitated by Virginia Haussegger AM.
Aunty Pat and Megan are members of the Referendum Working Group and were Co-Chairs of the Uluru Statement from the Heart dialogues. You’ll learn the history of the Uluru Statement, where things are up to, and have the opportunity to ask any questions you have. Come along and invite your friends and family.
Space is limited so check out details and RSVP here.
April Mobile Office
My next mobile office is taking place on Friday April 21 from 9am to 11.30am at BrewBar Anketell Street in South Point, Greenway. I’ll be there to meet with people from the local community and hear about what matters most to them, so please come along for a chat (and a cup of coffee) if you’re in the area.