I’ve just come home from the first two sitting weeks as your Member for Kooyong. What a ride!
I won’t write every newsletter to this length or with this amount of detail (you’ll thank me by the end of this!) but since this was my first fortnight in parliament, and I wouldn’t have been there without your support, I wanted to give you a day-by-day, “insider's view” on how busy, engaging, intensive, exhausting and exhilarating the last two weeks have been.
Perhaps you’d like to make a cup of tea before I get started… okay, ready?
From my first day, I realised that being in Parliament House is like entering a completely different world. The very long hours everyone works while parliament sits means that the building becomes like a tiny, very strange village. In some ways it’s weirdly familiar but in other ways completely foreign.
I got into Canberra late on Sunday evening (after a 3 hour delayed flight) and checked into an Airbnb. On Monday morning, the first order of business was a meeting with Prime Minister Albanese about how the new crossbench will work in the new parliament – not a bad start to the job! I then met with the new Speaker of the House, Milton Dick, and spent the afternoon getting the parliamentary office set up.
Tuesday was the official first day of the new parliament, and involved a lot of ceremony; but first, the crossbench had an 8am briefing from the government on their proposed Climate Change Bill before it was first put to parliament later that day. I appreciated the government seeking input and feedback from my crossbench colleagues; it set the tone for the collegiate and collaborative work between the government and the crossbench for the following two weeks.
We were welcomed to Country in a beautiful ceremony and then given a protective blessing from Ngunnawal elders in a smoking ceremony before heading into the chamber for the official swearing-in ceremony in the House of Representatives, where I was officially sworn in as your Member for Kooyong!
When it came to my turn to be sworn in and I walked forward with seven other Independents, I felt sure that it had to be the first time in Australian political history that all 8 people around the chamber’s table were women. It was such a special, joyous moment.
I managed to get down to the lawns of parliament that day to speak with inspiring young people from the Tomorrow Movement, who’d travelled to Canberra to ask the new parliament to take ambitious action on climate change. The House of Representatives worked until 7:30pm and then it was time for a quick dinner with my small team before bed.
Wednesday was another early start (I was beginning to see a pattern by this point) with the first official meeting between the other community Independents on the crossbench. After such a long time campaigning in our electorates and exchanging a few texts of support and encouragement it was wonderful to be able to get in a room together and get down to business! The rest of the day was packed with meetings, including a consultation on the Jenkins Review into staff conditions in parliament and multiple briefings on different pieces of legislation. The House sat until 7:30pm, and afterwards I finally caught some time to work on my first speech.
My nerves got me up at 4am on Thursday: I was giving my First Speech that afternoon! But not before an important briefing on family and domestic violence legislation that morning.
It meant the world to me that so many dedicated Kooyong volunteers travelled all the way to Canberra to support me as I gave my First Speech, as well as many of you watching at home. If you haven’t had a chance to watch it yet, you can watch it by clicking here. It was a very big moment!
After giving my First Speech I dashed out to the lawns of parliament again to speak at a rally supporting Julian Assange and calling on the government to bring him home to safety, and then ran back in for Question Time. That afternoon I had more briefings on procedure and the legislative program for the second week, then flew home feeling a wee bit tired but very, very happy.
The next day I was back in our Electorate Office without a moment to catch my breath! Already, we receive more than 100 emails each day from constituents and our days are also busy meeting with people who are keen to share concerns and suggestions with us. The Electorate Office is not yet fully staffed and all of us are new to the job, but we’re working hard to get our feet properly under the desk and to establish processes and plans to serve our wonderful community. That afternoon I spoke with Raf Epstein on ABC radio to share some impressions of the parliamentary week.
On Saturday I attended the Kew Court House Open House hosted by the Kew Historical Society, as part of Open House Melbourne. The efforts of local historians are really important for maintaining our social memories and feeling for the suburbs in which we live.
On Sunday afternoon it was back to Canberra for the next sitting week! The flight was delayed by three hours again... another pattern emerging!
On Monday I got up at 5:30am for a very cold pre-dawn run around Lake Burley Griffin before another early meeting with the crossbench Independents on how each of us were planning to approach the government’s Climate Change Bill. I then had 1:1 with Opposition Leader Peter Dutton in which I discussed my concerns regarding COVID-19, particularly regarding the health impact of repeated infections and long COVID.
New members of parliament aren’t allowed to speak in the chamber or contribute to debates until after their first speech. Because I had given my first speech on Thursday, it meant I was now free to speak up for the issues Kooyong cares about. It was time to get busy…..
I spent most of Monday in the House of Representatives chamber and asked my first question at Question Time, which you may have seen a clip from already after I went “viral” (the good kind!) for telling Liberal and National MPs who interrupted me to put their masks on! (You can watch the clip by clicking here – it’s been watched more than 250,000 times..). That afternoon I also spoke in the Federation Chamber, highlighting constituents' concerns regarding the NDIS.
Monday also included a meeting with Minister Chris Bowen for more negotiations regarding the Climate Change Bill and the crossbench’s proposed amendments to it, and a briefing with Treasurer Jim Chalmers regarding the economy. That evening, colleagues from the crossbench in the House organised a meeting with crossbenchers in the Senate including Senator David Pocock and Greens Senators to discuss whether it was possible to make Question Time in parliament more productive and less volatile. My crossbench colleagues and I were all a bit dismayed by the unnecessary aggression and time-wasting apparent during Question Time, and were keen to see if there were ways we can improve it – watch this space... During the day, the colleague I was sharing an Airbnb with tested positive for COVID19, so late that evening I packed up my belongings and moved into a hotel to minimise risk of infection. A very long day!
Lucky for me, my very long Monday was followed on Tuesday with an early morning photoshoot for my official portrait (Hopefully the lighting was kind). I then met with a delegation of Aboriginal women who had travelled from the Northern Territory to tell me their stories of being scammed by the Youpla funeral insurance company (you might have seen this issue in the news) and ask for support as they sought justice, and a delegation of refugees who had been detained in Australia’s offshore detention centres on Manus Island and Nauru.
That afternoon I spoke on a panel as part of an online conference hosted by St Vincent’s Hospital in Melbourne regarding the impact of climate change on health.
I then met 1:1 with Health Minister Mark Butler to discuss Medicare, NHMRC funding and my concerns around the management of COVID-19, then dashed to the House of Representatives chamber to voice my support for the LGBT community to be represented with a dedicated Human Rights Commissioner as part of the AHRC. That evening, I used a 10 minute Grievance Debate slot in the Federation Chamber to highlight the need to end offshore detention and revise the visa system to streamline administration and increase transparency in treatment of refugees and asylum seekers.
Wednesday morning started with a meeting with the Australian Youth Climate Coalition, then another meeting with my crossbench colleagues to finalise the amendments to the government’s Climate Change Bill that each of us were planning to move.
I then walked to the other side of Parliament House (which took about 15 minutes!) to meet with Senators Jacqui Lambie and Tammy Tyrrell about integrity and transparency (and what it’s like being a woman on the crossbench).
Then, I took part in an extraordinary Matters of Public Importance debate on refugees in the House with 5 other Independents and 5 members of the government, in which we discussed and debated ending offshore detention once and for all. The Minister for Immigration thanked the crossbench for our persistence on this issue. That afternoon I attended a roundtable on the proposed anti-corruption commission, had a meeting with Senator Katy Gallagher regarding finance matters, and then spoke in the Consideration in Detail section of the House debate on the Climate Change Act. That evening the National Press Club hosted a function for new members of parliament to “meet and greet” with journalists from the press gallery, which I popped into for a little while. The House of Representatives worked until 11pm that night, so it was a big day!
Thursday was a big day for me, for Kooyong and for the nation, as parliament was set to pass the government’s climate change Bill. I started the day with an 8am press conference with the other community independents (which you can watch on my Facebook page if you’d like to see the action).
The House of Representatives spent the morning debating and passing a number of amendments to the Bill in a flurry of votes. Finally, after a huge amount of work, the bill passed. The best bit was that the government accepted every one of the amendments moved by my crossbench colleagues and I, making the climate bill much stronger, more effective and more transparent than it would have been. I was very proud to have been able to improve Australia’s first climate change legislation in nearly a decade, on behalf of the people of Kooyong.
I do have to own up to making a small mistake, though. That morning there was a very significant number of votes on amendments in quick succession. I made the mistake of going in the wrong direction on one occasion, sitting on the wrong side of the chamber and thus having my vote counted as a “no” when I intended it to be an “aye”. The amendment wouldn’t have passed anyway and my vote was symbolic, but it was important symbolism to me (on the importance of not opening new fossil fuel projects). This experience proved the importance of always being alert in the House, as things can change really quickly and the rules regarding voting procedure are very strict. I was able to make a statement in the House a little later on, owning up to my mistake and being able to clarify my opposition to opening new fossil fuel projects.
It was a huge honour and very exciting to be in the room and on the floor to vote for and help pass the most important piece of Australian legislation on climate in the last 10 years.
That afternoon I attended initial meetings of the two committees to which I've been appointed; the Joint Standing Committee on the National Disability Insurance Scheme, and the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Health, Aged Care and Sport.
I finished the week by making a statement in the House to record my concerns about upcoming government legislation on superannuation, which is set to reduce transparency over some super funds expenditure. I’ll be looking into this issue more before we head back to parliament in a month. At about 5:30pm we headed to the airport in the pouring rain and then finally made it home after a huge two weeks. I was very happy to see my family and puppy.
In Canberra with me I had my new Chief of Staff, Sally Rugg (who has hit the ground *sprinting*!) who will come to parliament each sitting week, and Tamar Simons from the Electorate Office the first week and Liza Millar from the Electorate Office the second week. We had such a ball despite blisters from new smart shoes, the complete absence of well-positioned electrical slots, lack of decent coffee, the paucity of functioning PCs in the office, and the new Member for Kooyong’s inability to find any room without wandering the endless corridors for what feels like aeons… (On the bright side, our step counts have been stellar!) Plus, we did some really good work that I’m very proud of. It’s not every week you get to substantially improve and then pass legislation that will improve Australia’s future.
You’ve all been with me and the team in these last two weeks, in our happy hearts and minds. We’re working on ways to have Kooyong community members come to parliamentary sittings and help out in the parliamentary offices. We’d like to get these off the ground soon. We’ll be back in touch with more information once we’ve developed the plan. A tip: you’ll need to bring sensible shoes, snacks you can grab on the go, and to strap yourselves in for a busy, busy time.
In the meanwhile, be well, look after yourselves (and wear your masks!)
PS: In the next newsletter, you can expect updates on:
- Our community consultation process and the outcomes from it,
- Meet Mon sessions in the electorate restarting; the first will be on 13.8.22 from 11am -12 midday in the Maling Road shopping strip.
- We’re starting Electorate Office morning teas - these will be a chance for a catch-up and a tour of the office- the first will be on Monday 22.8.22. Numbers are limited (and COVID protocols will apply) - sign up here
In the meanwhile, please contact the office with any concerns or questions!