We are barrelling into federal budget #2 for the Albanese Labor Government which will be handed down in just over a week.
One of the key things I have been pushing for is an increase in income support payments like JobSeeker, Austudy and Commonwealth Rent Assistance. This is in line with the expert independent recommendations of the inaugural report from the Economic Inclusion Advisory Committee and the Women’s Economic Equality Taskforce.
Establishing the Committee was a key part of my agreement with the PM last year over industrial relations reforms (and don’t worry I did ask straight up for a raise in the rate as well but no luck).
More than a dozen Labor backbenchers are on the record supporting this (including Member for Canberra Alicia Payne) alongside over 350 organisations who have signed an open letter coordinated by ACOSS.
On Wednesday 30+ of these orgs joined me in a press conference at Parliament House to reinforce this call.
Now we need your help.
We are all asking everyone we know to do two simple things:
- Call your local Labor MP or duty Senator; and
- Email your local MP or duty Senator and the PM asking them to raise the rate.
The ACOSS Raise the Rate action page (https://www.raisetherate.org.au/take_action) gives you all the contact details you need to do this.
If you can take the time to do these two things over coming days the most vulnerable in our community would be so appreciative for your support.
I have been continuing negotiations with the government over the package of housing legislation currently before the parliament.
Every week there’s a new report and more evidence about the worsening housing crisis. This week, Anglicare’s annual Rental Affordability Snapshot shows there isn't a single property in the country that is considered affordable for a single person on youth allowance and just four properties suitable for singles receiving JobSeeker. Less than 0.1% of properties in the ACT are classed as affordable.
That is why I have been pushing so hard for a better deal for the ACT and nationally when it comes to housing.
On a per capita basis, under the current plan, the ACT would get just 540 homes from the new $10bn Housing Australia Future Fund (HAFF), which would be a net loss of social and affordable homes as the National Rental Affordability Scheme winds down.
I support the HAFF model broadly speaking, however I have been pushing the government for more ambition given the scale of the housing crisis we face.
Guaranteeing an ongoing supply of new social and affordable housing in perpetuity is absolutely critical.
With disbursements capped at $500 million per annum and construction costs rising, the fund will be fully subscribed at, or quite possibly before, building 30,000 homes.
This is a start but we need a commitment to further funding and the capacity to increase the annual cap.
Yesterday’s announcement of an extra $2 billion in long term cheap finance for community housing providers is something I’ve been speaking to government about. The changes to MIT withholding rates also announced by the PM that will help grow and accelerate the build-to-rent sector is something I campaigned on at the election.
I will keep working constructively with the government and fellow crossbenchers to try and move this forward and get a good outcome that will see real progress on this difficult challenge.
ACT GP Forum
Recently, I had the opportunity to meet with around 70 GPs from our community to speak about the challenges facing our primary care system.
The system is under a lot of strain. While this isn’t unique to the ACT, we do have some unique challenges. For example, the ACT has one of the lowest GP to patient ratios in the country - it’s even lower than remote areas of NSW.
As I heard at the Forum, there’s a lot that needs to be done to get general practice back on track and to make sure they have the funding and the resources to take care of patients and keep them out of hospital.
Thank you to all the GPs that came along - and I look forward to connecting again in the coming weeks and months to keep advocating for a better deal for GPs.
ASBFEO Procurement Review
The Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman (ASBFEO) recently announced an inquiry into the effect on small business of changes to the Commonwealth Procurement Rules made last July. The changes were intended to increase the participation of small and medium-sized enterprises in Commonwealth procurement opportunities.
My conversations with local business owners have raised a range of concerns regarding the difficulty of winning government contracts, especially for the first time. Often contracts seem to be going to larger multinationals even when smaller local providers are more competitive on both pricing and quality. This just doesn’t make sense; we need to get procurement policy settings right to ensure government spending supports the development of local capabilities, jobs and industries.
If you would like to learn more about this inquiry and make a submission, you can do so here. And if you or anyone you know can offer any further input regarding issues with Commonwealth procurement, please share it with my office by contacting Tom.
For small businesses: your thoughts on the administration of paid parental leave benefits
Recently, the Senate had the opportunity to consider changes to the Commonwealth Paid Parental Leave (PPL) scheme.
Some positive changes have been passed - but there’s a lot more to do in this area if we want our PPL scheme to incentivise more dads to take time off of work and to help reduce the gender pay gap. You can see my full speech here.
Under the PPL scheme, businesses must pass on payments from the Commonwealth to employees through their own payroll systems. This helps to keep a financial connection between employers and parents while they are separated from employment, and it also makes it easy for employers to top-up benefits as well.
However, for small businesses, this obligation can be a frustration. I have heard from small businesses (who don’t have a HR team) that it can take a long to set up administratively, blow out payroll processing times and cause significant cash flow issues.
Services Australia can already pay employees directly. I’m interested in whether small businesses could choose to opt-out of administering the Commonwealth scheme to help reduce their administrative load while still ensuring new parents still have access to PPL benefits.
As part of my negotiations with the Government, I secured an inquiry to look into this matter - and more broadly, to understand how Services Australia and the Department of Social Services could better work together to craft policy with small businesses in mind.
The Inquiry is accepting submissions right now. If you are a small business that has passed on PPL benefits, we would love to hear from you. You can reach out to my office by getting in touch with Tom.
Inspector-General of Aged Care
Currently, there is a Bill before the Senate to establish the position of Inspector-General of Aged Care.
While the Aged Care Commissioner is charged with monitoring aged care providers, the Inspector-General will be responsible for Government departments and agencies to ensure they are also doing their part to look after people in aged care.
This is a welcome move, and fulfils one of the recommendations of the Aged Care Royal Commission.
However, I think some small changes to the Bill would go a long way to strengthening the integrity of this new and powerful office, including a change to ensure that the job can’t just be given to a political mate. You can read my thoughts on the Bill here.
Access to affordable dental care is a growing challenge across the country.
The federal parliament is taking a look at the issue and wants to hear from you.
If you can spare ten minutes to complete this survey it could help drive much needed improvements.
Significance of the National Capital
The Joint Standing Committee on the National Capital and External Territories, of which I am a member, recently announced an Inquiry into fostering and promoting the significance of Australia’s National Capital. I think lots of Canberrans agree that we could be doing a much better job of respecting and investing in our city’s status as the nation’s capital. This is one of the reasons I have been advocating for a more ambitious plan for our city’s future through a Canberra Region City Partnership, as well as calling for the ACT to receive its fair share of infrastructure investment from the Commonwealth in areas like housing and transport.
I have also pushed the government to prioritise funding for our National Cultural and Collecting Institutions and, while I was very happy to see their recent announcement of $535.3 million in new funding for the restoration of these institutions, I still think a lot more could and should be done to prevent Canberra from remaining one of the least-known capital cities in the world.
Public submissions to the inquiry are open until 5 May and I would encourage anyone with a strong view on the importance of Canberra as Australia’s National Capital to learn more and make a submission here.
Next Town Hall
Our next Community Town Hall meeting is coming up fast. It’s being held on Wednesday 17 May in the CCPAC Theatre at Canberra College in Phillip.
This will be a great opportunity to take stock of the key federal budget outcomes impacting Canberrans and the ANU economist Associate Professor Ben Phillips, who is also a member of the Economic Inclusion Advisory Committee, will be our guest speaker.
Sausage sizzle from 5.45pm with official proceedings kicking off at 6.30pm, register here.
Suburb Zero Launch
More than 600 people spent their Friday evening packed into an ANU theatre to launch Suburb Zero, a community-led campaign to increase the speed of electrification in Canberra. It was inspiring to see so many passionate Canberrans get behind the idea, ask questions and provide input into next steps.
I joined Saul Griffith (Rewiring Australia), Kat Lucas-Healy (ANU), Jon Sibley (enX) and the incredible Sarah Reid (Suburb Zero) to launch a proposal for an electrification trial. The depth of expertise, drive and generosity within the group is incredibly impressive.
If you’d like to get involved and volunteer on the campaign, you can sign up here. If you’re not able to get involved or can’t spare the time, make sure you fill out the Suburb Zero survey and take the opportunity to have a say and provide insight.
A big thank you to the ANU Battery Storage and Grid Integration Program and Professor Lachlan Blackhall for all of the work done behind the scenes to make the event a success.
Electric Vehicle Strategy
The government recently released their National Electric Vehicle Strategy, which represents a positive step forward in getting Australians better access to more affordable EVs. Unfortunately, details of one of the most significant elements of the strategy, fuel efficiency standards, are yet to be finalised.
In Europe, there are more than 20 EVs under the $40,000 price point. In Australia, we do not have a single one, and the reason is an absence of ambitious fuel efficiency standards.
I will be pushing the government to enact ambitious and straightforward standards that open the door to the financial savings and environmental benefits that come from bringing affordable EVs to the Australian market. You can have your say too by making a submission here.
I hope you have a great weekend,