It has been an absolutely huge year, and the final sitting fortnight was no exception - in fact, it may have been our biggest so far.
Here’s a recap of what I’ve been up to, as well as a look into what 2023 has in store.
Passing the Restoring Territory Rights Bill
At 7.48 pm on the last sitting Thursday, the Restoring Territory Rights Bill 2022 finally passed the Senate.
This was an emotional moment for so many in the Parliament, and the ACT and the Northern Territory especially, many of whom have been advocating for this for 25-years and it was so good to share it with so many in our community, especially Sam and Kate.
In the end, the Bill passed “on the voices”, meaning that while some Senators did not support it, there was no division requested and a final vote wasn’t recorded.
I’ve said it a number of times already, but I want to again thank everyone who has been driving this forward for our community over the past couple of decades. I mentioned just a few of them in my media release from the night.
The conversation on voluntary assisted dying is now in the hands of the people of the ACT and the ACT Legislative Assembly - where it should be. I understand the Chief Minister and Minister Cheyne have outlined the path ahead, and I look forward to seeing how the conversation unfolds over the coming months.
Just in the NACC of time
Another historic piece of legislation that passed the parliament in that same week will establish our first ever National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC).
As I’ve said previously, I believe the “exceptional circumstances” test for public hearings of the NACC is too high a bar, particularly considering that the NACC can already only investigate instances of significant corruption. I moved an amendment alongside other senators to remove this test, but ultimately the Government and the Opposition used their combined numbers to keep this in the Bill.
While disappointed that this amendment failed as it diminishes the NACC’s power to shine a light on corruption and to deter it, I am nevertheless really pleased that the Bill has passed.
This is a change that many in our community have been calling for, and I believe it will go a long way towards beginning to restore trust in our decision makers.
I look forward to seeing the progress on this with the official establishment of the NACC to happen in mid-2023.
An agreement on IR with balance and added benefits
In what was the biggest negotiation with government to date, I was able to agree a broad range of amendments and added commitments in return for my support for the Government’s Fair Work Amendment (Secure Jobs, Better Pay) Bill 2022.
These included additional exemptions and safeguards for business, especially small business as well as measures to help ensure wages rises for the lowest paid workers. You can read more detail about the changes here and additional resources for business are also available here [link]
I was also able to secure agreement from the Prime Minister to examine and respond to the Murray review this term of parliament which will help ensure subbies get paid on time, every time.
But the biggest win was for the most vulnerable in our community and that was a commitment to establish a new National Economic Inclusion Advisory Committee.
This committee, comprised of experts and key representatives, will review the adequacy of support payments like JobSeeker and Austudy annually ahead of each federal budget, and feed their recommendations into the pre-budget expenditure review committee process. Their high level findings will be published at least 14 days prior to every federal budget. An interim committee will be established and hold their first meeting before the end of this year ahead of a permanent statutory committee being legislated next year.
Looking after firefighters in the ACT
As part of my negotiations on industrial relations, I also secured some important changes that will provide better care to firefighters in the ACT.
Firefighting is one of the most dangerous professions in the world. It’s not just the danger of fighting a fire, it’s the increased risk of cancer that follows firies decades after they have finished working.
Working with both volunteer and career firefighters, we quickly realised that our workers’ compensation arrangements are not where they should be - and were certainly far behind the major states.
We saw an opportunity to put the ACT ahead of the pack, and line up compensation arrangements with current evidence. We secured an agreement to add 12 new cancers to the compensation list, including - for the first time in Australia - womens’ reproductive cancers. I am reliably informed that the ACT now has the most up-to-date arrangements in the world, meaning our firies can be confident that compensation will be there for any cancer that may develop as a result of their job.
A better outcome for EVs
Electric vehicles are clearly a part of our net zero future. However, if we hope to make the transition, we need to be doing more to not just attract EVs to the Australian market, but make them more affordable.
Recently, the Senate passed the Treasury Laws Amendment (Electric Car Discount) Bill 2022, which removes the fringe benefit tax (FBT) from EVs. This is a step in the right direction. Broadly, it will make it more attractive to transition fleet vehicles to EVs and create a bigger secondhand market.
I held some concerns over removing FBT from plug-in hybrids (PHEVs). Real-world testing of PHEVs shows them being used on petrol (after the battery is flat) a lot more than is claimed, so experts have been saying that any tax break would be tantamount to a fossil fuel subsidy.
Notwithstanding this, PHEVs are a clear transition technology to EVs and it is better that we have them as part of the mix in the short term. Working with the Greens, I successfully moved an amendment to sunset the FBT exemption for PHEVs on 1 April 2025.
Stopping predatory payday lenders ahead of the holidays
One bill that grabbed less headlines but will have a big impact on consumers, the Financial Sector Reform Bill 2022 fell off the legislative agenda. I heard from people across the ACT and from organisations like Choice who were concerned about any delay to the passage of this legislation.
This Bill tightens up the laws to make it harder for payday lenders to target vulnerable populations, particularly those without the financial means to pay off large debts. Advocates were worried that if we didn’t pass it before the holidays, payday lenders would take the opportunity to prey on people who may be considering loans to pay for Christmas presents.
With some lenders reportedly charging over 900% interest on their small loans, I wanted to make sure these laws passed before the Senate wrapped up for the year. It was a race to the finish line, but I’m happy to say that I was able to help get it back on the agenda and it has now passed parliament.
No jobs for mates at the new High Speed Rail Authority
Legislation to establish a new High Speed Rail Authority also made its way through with the government supporting my amendment that will prevent this government - and any future government - from stacking its Board with their mates.
Political appointments are corrosive to our public service. When mates are dropped into leadership roles, it denies our country the chance to have the best people in these roles, steering national programs.
With my amendments, recruitment for these positions will need to be merit-based and publicly advertised. This is the bare minimum of what should be happening for every senior appointment in government.
Childcare Bill Amendments
Changing the title from ‘Cheaper Childcare’, to ‘More affordable early childhood education’ was the first thing I asked for in amending this bill.
Language matters and early childhood educators have been saying to me how important it is that we start properly recognising and valuing what they do.
A further amendment ensured that cooks who work in early childhood centres are now also eligible for an optional fees discount for their own children’s early childhood education in the centre where they work..
The next cab off the rank is of course pay and in 2023 the priority has to be a move towards higher wages for early childhood educators.
Speaking up for refugees in our community
Over the past few weeks I have also met with more refugees and people seeking asylum, including those who spent years detained on Nauru, and who are currently living in limbo in the Australian community. I was also privileged to meet and advocate for a number of people seeking asylum living in the community on bridging visas, who have not been provided with the work or study rights they need to get on with their lives.
Many of the people affected by these punitive policies are such a vibrant and valued part of our communities, and I intend to keep advocating wherever possible for them to be treated with the dignity and fairness they deserve. I will continue to press the government to ensure that all people on temporary protection visas are transitioned to permanent residency as a matter of urgency.
Events in and out of Parliament
In between a packed legislative agenda, we managed to squeeze in a few events both inside and outside Parliament House.
With the help of the Community Housing Industry Association and National Shelter among other peaks, we hosted two meetings of the Parliamentary Friends of Housing group to talk about the housing crisis and the solutions needed to get investment flowing into social, community and affordable housing.
We also hosted a breakfast event with engineer and inventor Saul Griffiths, CEO of Beyond Zero Emissions, Heidi Lee, and the Minister for Climate Change, Chris Bowen to talk about the US Inflation Reduction Act in the context of the renewable energy transition. It was a fascinating discussion, showing that if we make households the beneficiaries of the energy transition, we can work to simultaneously improve people’s economic security while we journey toward net zero.
On Sunday, we also had our volunteer Christmas party on Reid oval, which featured a (not-at-all-competitive) game of ultimate frisbee. Thank you to all who attended, it was lovely to catch up with so many of you.
And to cap off this week I got up close and personal with some of our unique wildlife as I responded to the Government’s “Nature Positive Plan”, their response to the Samuel’s review of our outdated and broken federal environmental protection laws.
Heading into the festive season we have set up a Giving Tree at the electorate office to collect donations for Communities@Work.
My staff also put me to work, pushing a trolley through Gungahlin Marketplace, asking some of our local businesses for donations. We have a great pile of gifts going and I hope it will make a difference to families here in the ACT.
If you’re in the area and would like to contribute, don’t hesitate to drop in and pop a present under the Christmas Tree. We will be wrapping everything up and sending it off to Communities@Work on 16 December.
If you can't make it out to Gungahlin, Communities@Work have links to a number of virtual giving trees. There’s more information on my website.
Save the date: First Town Hall for 2023
Finally, I just wanted to share the date for next year’s first Town Hall meeting which will be 6.30pm to 8.00pm in Belconnen (venue TBC). Please register here and further details will be emailed to you closer to the event.
As we did this year, I’ll be holding one every quarter in a different part of Canberra and I’ll be releasing the full schedule early in the New Year.
These town halls are part of my commitment to be accountable and are such a great way to hear first hand the issues most important to you.
Following a massive year, we will all be taking a small break over the holidays to recharge and reset - and I hope you get one as well.
We’ll be closing the office between 19 December 2022 and 4 January 2023.
My staff are also under strict instruction to enjoy their time off. However, if there’s anything you’d like to raise, please don’t hesitate to send us an email at [email protected] and we will respond as soon as we get back in January.
Until then thank you for all your support over what has been a truly extraordinary year,