Today marks the end of the life of the world’s second longest reigning monarch, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
Having spent my childhood in a country that had gained its Independence, I appreciate the divergent views held across our community when it comes to the monarchy.
But I also think it's possible to simultaneously commemorate the life of someone who contributed so much to public life, while holding concerns over the enduring legacy of the British Empire.
I have been reflecting on the life of a leader who devoted herself to service with grace, humility and dignity. I want to add my condolences in particular, to her family, especially her children and grandchildren.
I met the Queen in 2008 during a Wallabies Spring Tour. I was struck by her ability to find interest in whatever conversation she was in. Despite the sheer volume of people she had to meet in any given week it seemed she was able to bring a real warmth and attention to whoever she was speaking with.
There will be various opportunities to commemorate Her Majesty’s life, including a condolences book in the Marble Foyer which you can come and sign and a National Memorial Service to be held at Australian Parliament House and broadcast to the Nation. Further details will be available at Home – Parliament of Australia (aph.gov.au)
This week marks an historic moment of a very different kind, when yesterday the Senate passed legislation to enshrine an emissions reduction target into law for the first time.
It was a wild, and at times frustrating, morning in the Senate with a flurry of divisions, amendments and debates on the Climate Change Bills.
Here’s a quick rundown of how it went down and where to next:
On Wednesday, I had the opportunity to speak on the draft legislation and supported a motion to enable all remaining second reading speeches on the bill to be heard that night.
Everyone who wanted to speak on the legislation had the chance to do so on the Senate floor.
On Thursday morning, there was a range of procedural manoeuvring in the Senate chamber and attempts to filibuster and delay a vote on the bills. What this involved was Senators speaking at length against climate science and action on climate change.
As a result, I supported a motion to put some hard time constraints around the debate on amendments. My thinking behind this decision was the importance that the bills came to a vote yesterday and could go back to the House of Representatives for a final vote there too.
In the end, I moved a range of amendments to improve the bills. Some were supported by the Government and the Greens and therefore made it into the final law, others were defeated.
A snapshot of the amendments I moved is below:
SUPPORTED BY THE GOVERNMENT
A requirement that proper consideration of climate change risk be included in the Minister's annual statement.
An emissions impact assessment to be published (proposed jointly with the Jacqui Lambie Network).
This amendment would have legislated transparency on the impact that federal budget measures have on our emissions budget.
A strengthening of mechanisms to hold the government to account if they fail to act on climate change. Australians deserve to be able to call out inaction.
A requirement that the annual climate change statement must address the progress made in reducing Australia’s exported (scope 3) emissions.
Public consultation so that the scientific community, and the broader Australian community have an opportunity to contribute to advice on an annual climate change statement.
A requirement that advice from the Climate Change Authority on emissions reduction targets explain how the advice has taken the best available scientific knowledge into account.
Closure of a potential loophole that could allow ARENA to fund questionable technologies. The integrity of ARENA is fundamental to our ability to reduce emissions.
On behalf of our community, I was proud to use my position to secure changes that will add more transparency, accountability and integrity to this legislation.
Now we move on to tackling the next challenges in this space including reform of our federal environmental laws (EPBC Act), consultation on the safeguard mechanism and implementation of electric vehicle policies.
I have already started pushing the Government for more ambition on their first legislation to electrify transport to ensure the policy doesn’t become just another fossil fuel subsidy.
I took an opportunity in the Senate this week to speak about an issue I know is of concern to many here in the ACT, the challenge of invasive species and the future of the Lawson Grasslands.
I spoke out on Stage 3 Tax Cuts, reflecting the overwhelming views communicated to my office and on the need to raise the rate so we aren’t condemning the most vulnerable in our community to live in poverty.
Better care for older Australians
The Climate Bills weren’t the only pieces of legislation I was able to negotiate amendments on this week.
Recently, I had the opportunity to participate in a Senate Inquiry into the Aged Care Amendment (Implementing Care Reform) Bill 2022.
This is an important Bill. First and foremost, it establishes the 24/7 registered nurse requirement, which we know will help deliver the higher standard of care for older Australians envisioned by the Royal Commission.
Through the Senate Committee process, we read through each submission. What we saw was significant concerns with the powers the Government was giving itself to grant aged care providers with exemptions from the 24/7 RN requirement.
Stakeholders, from the Older Persons Advocacy Network to the Australian Nursing & Midwifery Federation were clear: there should be clear safeguards to these powers, and that the safety of older Australians should be taken into account when an exemption is being made.
We completed a dissenting report and I was able to work with the Minister for Aged Care, the Hon. Anika Wells MP, to deliver a series of changes to the Bill:
- All exemptions must now be time-limited and therefore the subject of regular review.
- The Government must now review the care arrangements that will be in place for aged care residents in the temporary absence of a 24/7 RN.
- All exemptions must be published publicly, in full view of aged care residents, their families and aged care watchdogs.
I thank Minister Wells for being open to collaborating with me on this Bill. As she said herself in Parliament this week, it’s important that we get the rules right on the first go. I look forward to supporting the Bill when it reaches the Senate.
Cashless Debit Card
Another key piece of legislation coming down the pipeline relates to the Cashless Debit Card (or Indue as it is known).
On this Bill too I have been negotiating behind the scenes with the Government on amendments that would significantly improve outcomes for affected communities and I’ll be able to say more on this very shortly.
I listened hard during the Senate inquiry into this legislation, read all the submissions and have had numerous follow up meetings with stakeholders.
What I heard is that we need a clear pathway to get rid of compulsory income management - both the CDC and the BasicsCard.
We need a plan to abolish all compulsory income management and instead offer a voluntary system that utilises local decision making.
This voluntary system should also use technology that does not put participants at a disadvantage compared to their fellow Australians.
Territory Rights Update
This week, the Senate kicked off debate on the Restoring Territory Rights Bill 2022.
I had the opportunity to speak on this Bill on Monday. There is a recording on my website (with a transcript), in case you would like to watch.
I know there are many senators who have asked for an opportunity to speak to this Bill and to share their support and their concerns. It will take time to get through these speeches, so it’s likely the Bill will not come to a vote for some time. I used my allotted time in general business to instead allow more debate on the Territory Rights Bill. I’ll keep working with the Government and others in the Senate to look at the options available to us to speed up consideration - and I will keep everyone posted on the outcome.
The last time this matter was discussed was in 2018, and a lot has changed since then. Every state has had a discussion on this matter, and I believe there is broad recognition that it no longer makes sense to exclude the territories from doing the same.
I have been speaking to my colleagues across the Chamber, and while the numbers are looking tight, I am increasingly confident that the so-called “Andrews Bill” will be repealed. That being said, I won’t be leaving anything to chance, and will be speaking with more of my Senate colleagues over the coming weeks.
Town Hall and Tree planting reminder
You can submit and up vote questions here and remember Aunty Pat Anderson AO will be our guest giving a short presentation on the Voice.
Senator David Pocock