It’s been several weeks since we’ve touched base, during which period we’ve lost our Queen of more than 70 years, and experienced a week of adjustment and transition. I thought it time to report back on what we’ve been up to in Kooyong and Canberra, and on our plans for the next few weeks. There’s a bit to catch you all up on... get comfortable…
Since I last wrote we had some time catching up on community matters in the Electorate Office. After celebrating Father’s Day with our families we headed back to Canberra on September 4. I’ve found an apartment in walking distance to Parliament House (which is very good), with a good short run up to the top of Red Hill (challenging), sharing with two other Independents (nice not to come home to an empty nest). We had a slightly challenging week with non-functional heating (very cold) and inability to get furniture delivered (sleeping on an inflatable mattress in an unheated apartment is not my favourite) - but it was good to start to get settled into a daily Canberra routine.
It was a short but very busy sitting week.
Monday, I got up early and ‘ran’ to the top of Red Hill then got to work by 7am. I had an interview with the AFR in the morning, then spoke in the Federation Chamber on the health impacts of climate change, backing up a motion by Dr Sophie Scamps. I also spoke to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day (which was on January 27 but missed by Parliament at that time) with members of the government and opposition. I met with members of the Greens regarding a proposal to lower the voting age, which was an idea I heard many times from Youth for Mon volunteers during the campaign. Then, in my role as co-chair of the Parliamentary Friends of Rare Diseases I joined an event to mark International Rare Disease Day.
In the afternoon, Member for Goldstein Zoe Daniel and I moved to change the rules around Question Time (QT) in the House in a bid to improve the tenor of QT debate. This motion passed with the support of the government. My colleagues on the crossbench and I had been frustrated by delaying tactics used by the Opposition in the previous two sitting weeks, which ran down the clock and meant that QT was wasted with pointless points-of-order and time-wasting and inevitably saw members of the crossbench have less opportunity to ask questions of the government. The Opposition were not entirely happy about this change, but we think it evened things up.
I then finished the day with a bang, by lodging a disallowance motion for a piece of delegated legislation for a federal grant - for the Australia Future Leaders Foundation- which had been developed in association with the Governor General and approved by the Morrison Government. The grant - for $18 million then $4 million/year in perpetuity- had not gone through the usual processes and there was a lack of transparency and clarity about the granting processes which I felt warranted further examination. Many in Kooyong have had experience with the NHMRC, ARC, MRFF etc, and know how hard it is to get support for research in this country. We need transparent checks and balances for all government appropriations - it felt like a win for transparency and integrity to block this grant from going through without being debated in the House. Lodging this disallowance motion for the delegated legislation required my small staff and I to very quickly piece together complex parliamentary instruments and processes. It’s very satisfying to be getting a handle on how an Independent like myself can make change inside the parliament, beyond just voting on legislation. MPs within major parties are limited in how they can use parliamentary processes (as well as their political power) but as an Independent – with strategy and collaboration - I’m able to harness the power of these parliamentary processes.
I think the Labor government and Liberal and National opposition are beginning to realise that even though we’re not the ‘balance of power’ on legislative votes that Independents really will challenge them on the issues which matter to our electorates.
I ended the day with a late takeaway dinner with my team, sitting on the floor of the unfurnished new apartment (quite a juxtaposition from the halls of parliament).
Tuesday, I was in parliament from 7am for a breakfast meeting to mark World Suicide Prevention Day, then quickly made my way over to the Federation Chamber where I gave a Constituency Statement on the challenges many Kooyong families are experiencing with accessing mental health care.
I then lodged a draft Private Member’s Bill (our very first) seeking to end the delays faced by many NDIS participants who need to access disability accommodation on discharge from hospital; this matter has received quite a bit of media attention this week- we’ll circle back to it in the next few months if it does not get resolved.
That morning, the Parliamentary Committee on Health, Aged Care and Sport (of which I am a member) announced an inquiry into the health effects of long and recurrent COVID. We held a press conference to speak to the media about the inquiry.
I met with Minister Stephen Jones regarding concerns that Kooyong residents have raised with me about superannuation regulation changes, and then Climate Change Minister Chris Bowen and Treasurer Jim Chalmers about possible amendments to government’s Electric Vehicle Bill, which I then spoke about in the Chamber. I plan to vote in support of this legislation, but spoke about some inconsistencies in the Bill’s treatment of various tax discounts and of my plans for further work in the arena of EVs.
Throughout the day I was taking calls from journalists, discussing the disallowance motion regarding the mysterious grant to the Australian Future Leader’s Foundation, all while negotiating a wardrobe malfunction (broken shoe heel) by pairing my smart, black dress with a pair of bright green runners. I had an evening meeting with the other community independents to sort out our areas of special interest and how we can pool resources in reviewing and preparing legislation.
On Wednesday I again attempted the Red Hill run before meeting with the Greens about their forthcoming housing policy and with Senator Tammy Tyrrell from the Jacqui Lambie Network, who had also lodged a disallowance motion on the Future Leaders Foundation grant earlier in the week.
I attended a briefing by the National Emergency Management agency on possible major environmental events over summer, then met with representatives of family violence services, the aged care sector, the Aboriginal Legal Service, Micah Projects, and the Australasian College of Radiologists. That afternoon, I spoke in the chamber on the government’s Aged Care Bill, which will legislate their commitment to ensure there is a nurse onsite in every aged care home. This is a Bill I plan to vote for, but I voiced my concerns about some elements of the Bill that relate to reporting and public disclosures of aged care homes and flagged my intention to support an amendment from Independent MP Rebekah Sharkie that seeks to address this.
That afternoon, I met with Infrastructure Minister Catherine King about fuel efficiency standards (part of my ongoing work regarding EVs) and moments after I left the meeting, heard that the government had cancelled the Future Leaders Foundation grant that I’d lodged a disallowance motion for. Proof that independent voices can drive change in Canberra! I’d previously decided not to attend the Midwinter Ball, which was held in parliament that evening, so my team and I had a quiet celebratory dinner instead.
On Thursday, I attended another breakfast event, Power of Speech, which celebrated the achievement of children who are deaf and use spoken language to communicate. I quickly recorded a video for the Inquiry into Long COVID and Repeated Infections that the Health Committee launched earlier in the week, asked a question of the Prime Minister in the House regarding the need to review discretionary grants disbursed by the previous government, attended meetings of both the Health, Aged Care and Sport and NDIS committees, and my staff flew home while I went for dinner with several other independents and their teams (note to self: need cooking utensils for apartment).
I awoke Friday to the news that Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II had died. This was a sombre moment - most of us can remember no other monarch. I was scheduled to speak first thing on a panel for the Committee for Economic Development’s State of the Nation meeting – an important event, which went ahead as we waited for information about what the passing of Her Majesty the Queen meant for the parliament and its people. Within hours, the government and the parliament were moving quickly to give directions to MPs, staffers and the public service about the formal protocols we were to follow to observe the passing of the monarch. I went to Parliament House and signed the official Condolence Book on behalf of the people of Kooyong. Then, the Prime Minister announced cancellation of the planned sitting week (this week that’s just passed) as I flew home to Kooyong.
Saturday, a team of volunteers from Kooyong visited the Widgewah Conservation Reserve to plant trees and heard about the remarkable work being undertaken by the Reforest Project and Odonata Foundation to protect the southern brush-tailed rock wallaby. It was an invigorating and inspiring day. We were very grateful to Lisa Blundell and Simon Taylor for hosting the visit to Mt Rothwell.
Sunday was a day off. So, naturally, I spent the day putting together a proposal for a National Summit on COVID 19 , to bring together experts in the areas of health, economics, business and industry to create a plan for our summer months, which will likely see a new variant emerge from the Northern Hemisphere's winter. We all remember last year's summer, which saw us unprepared for the Omicron wave. My hope is that a National Summit would create a set of plans to mitigate any new variants as best as possible and provide greater certainty to business, schools, the health system and all of us feeling anxious about what our long-term COVID plan is. By the end of the day I had secured support from the AMA, the ACTU and several leading health professionals. I wrote to the Health Minister Mark Butler outlining my proposal and he has set up a meeting to discuss.
This week, as parliament was postponed this week as a mark of respect for the Queen’s passing, has been an unexpected opportunity for the team to catch up on work a bit. The flipside of this unscheduled week in the electorate is that we’re now going back to Canberra earlier than originally scheduled. The rest of the year looks very busy, especially with 4 sitting weeks (including the federal budget) in the space of 6 weeks in October and November... wish us luck.
On Monday I attended the Governor’s official Proclamation of the Sovereign his Majesty King Charles III, and then through the week had a series of meetings regarding local and federal issues, including a discussion with Housing Minister Julie Collins about housing affordability. I also met with a delegation of Pacific Islander leaders to discuss the impacts of climate change and how we can work together across the region for action.
My proposal for a National Summit on COVID 19 has attracted quite a bit of media interest, including an interview on ABC RN Breakfast with Patricia Karvelas (which you can listen to here).
Next week, I’ll attend the National Memorial Ceremony in Canberra before giving voice to Kooyong’s condolences at Her Majesty the Queen’s passing in the House of Representatives on Friday. If you have any thoughts or words that you would like me to consider sharing in the Chamber, please feel free to reply to this email with them and I will do my best to represent them.
Hopefully I’ll have a mattress and some heating in a few days when I’m back in the Canberra apartment, and we might even manage to scrounge some chairs and a table. Normal parliamentary sitting will resume in the House on 26.9.2002. That week, I’ll meet with the Minister for Health about my proposal for a National Summit on COVID and will help put forward a proposal for an independent inquiry into media diversity in Australia. Strong, diverse and independent media is essential in a democracy and for integrity, transparency and government accountability.
The October Budget is forthcoming and as an Independent I’ll have a role to play in ensuring that the government is allocating public money sensibly and in the right places - there’s much to do in the next few months.
I look forward to seeing you all on the streets of Kooyong. Until then, stay well.