It’s been a very busy time in both the Kooyong electorate and Canberra office.
In Kooyong, we’ve been working hard to respond as quickly and effectively as possible to constituent queries and requests. In Canberra, we’ve been working for the climate and the environment – trying to protect our native forests and stop new fossil fuel developments – as well as examining legislation on Respect@Work, expanded support for child-care, and industrial relations reform.
Although it feels like months ago, it’s only just over two weeks ago that the Government delivered its first federal budget. In Parliament House, on Tuesday the 25th, MPs could enter a ‘lock-up’ to read the embargoed Budget Papers before the Treasurer formally handed down the Budget. It was a fascinating (and quite fun) experience, where MPs and their staff crammed into a room for up to 6 hours poring over the detail, looking for any cuts or funding boosts to the issue areas our constituents care about
The next day, I hosted a post-budget briefing via Zoom to give an overview of what the Budget held, but, as is often the case in Parliament, halfway through I had to race off to speak in the House of Representatives on the Government’s Cheaper Childcare bill! Then, I was interrupted halfway through that speech by the chamber moving to 90 second-statements. Parliament certainly keeps me on my toes!
That afternoon I spoke in the Federation Chamber about stopping sexual harassment in the workplace, during which time there was a division in the House of Representatives and I had to stop that speech to race downstairs to vote... Parliament is intensely busy, with constantly changing schedules- perhaps you can see what I mean here. (Part 1 & Part 2)
On Thursday the 27th, I put a question to the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Catherine King on a worrying announcement in Tuesday’s budget papers: the Government’s allocation of $1.5 billion to the expansion of the Middle Arm industrial precinct in Darwin, which will support fracking of the Beetaloo basin. Funding for Middle Arm was originally announced by Barnaby Joyce as part of the Morrison Government’s “5 Basins Gas Plan”, the cornerstone of the coalition’s “gas led recovery”. It’s deeply concerning that the Labor Government has recommitted to this funding, and it has been frustrating to see the Government try to deny that this funding for Middle Arm will support new gas projects from the Beetaloo basin. We simply can’t open new oil or gas developments if we’re to avoid global warming by 1.5° - the science is clear, the IPCC has been explicit about this. I’ll keep pressure on the government about this important issue in the coming months.
Late on Thursday evening, the Crossbench received a briefing from the Government on their industrial relations bill. It was a challenging briefing; the legislation is 243 pages long and very complex. The Government informed us that they planned to push the legislation through the following sitting week. This gave us very little time to analyse the Bill or to consult with experts or our electorates. I spoke about my frustrations with this process when I made my speech on the legislation, which is linked a little later in this Newsletter.
On Friday I was in back in Kooyong for visits to The Centre of Greek Ex-Servicemen's Elderly Citizen's Club of Kew and Districts for Greek National Day "OXI" Day- I also visited the Andale School.
Early the following week I met with about a dozen constituents on a wide range of topics that concerned them – later that day in Canberra I met with Minister Tony Burke on the Government’s workplace relations reforms: the Secure Jobs, Better Pay Bill. I then had a briefing on seismic testing; an issue many constituents feel deeply concerned about. Before the end of the year, I’ll be tabling a petition in parliament to stop seismic testing.
I had a few days off after Cup Day- it's been a busy year, and the next two months will be VERY intense.. Then, it was back to Canberra last Sunday.
This past week in Parliament saw fewer bills on the agenda than usual, but they were very BIG bills! While most of the week was dominated by debate about the government’s Secure Jobs, Better Pay (IR) bill, Monday marked the passage of another significant reform, the Respect at Work bill.
The Respect at Work legislation was driven by the recommendations from the landmark report of the same name by Kate Jenkins. That report was the product of an 18-month inquiry by the Human Rights Commission into sexual harassment in Australian workplaces. The inquiry found that a third of women had been sexually harassed at work within the last five years – a staggering finding, but one that will not surprise most women.
It was an honour to vote to pass the Respect at Work bill in parliament: it creates an expectation that all workplaces will work to prevent and address sexual harassment, assault and discrimination. I was concerned, however, that the costs provisions of the proposed Bill would not adequately support victims of sexual harassment who want to come forward. Working with legal experts from the Grata Fund, I prepared and moved an amendment to the Respect at Work bill to ensure that victims of sexual harassment would not be responsible for their costs if they brought a successful claim. That surety would help women to secure legal representation and increase the chances of cases being taken to completion.
My amendment was not successful in the House of Representatives- the government decided not to support it- which was disappointing. It has, however, sparked widespread discussion I this really important issue in the media and the legal community, and the amendment will be proposed again by other crossbench colleagues when the bill goes to the Senate.
You can read some of the coverage of my amendment in The Age, The Monthly and Crikey and watch my speech in the House of Representatives, on why I was moving the amendment, here
On Monday evening, I moved a motion in the Federation Chamber calling for the protection of native forests to be reinstated into national environmental laws, I.e. assumed again under the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Act (EPBC). The native forests of the central highlands of Victoria are among the most carbon-dense forests in the world. Stopping native forest logging in Victoria would save emissions equivalent to taking 730,000 cars off the road every year! Despite this, the State Labor Government in Victoria is actively subsidising the logging of native forests – by $20m every year- and intends to continue its deforestation until 2030 – it's hard to imagine the hectares of precious environment destroyed between now and then.
I started the day on Wednesday morning with women from across the Parliament, and across the political spectrum, united in our support for measures to improve treatment for endometriosis and conditions associated with menstruation, menopause and reproductive health.
I met with several government ministers to receive briefings on upcoming bills, then spent much of the day working through the many amendments being proposed by the Government, Opposition and members of the Crossbench for the Secure Jobs, Better Pay Bill. That afternoon I had a particularly important meeting with some high-ranking senior officials from the ABC... Bluey, Bingo and the Bananas! I also tried to convince Rachel Griffiths to reveal what happens with the crossbench in the next series of Total Control....
On Wednesday evening, my colleagues on the Crossbench and I were named Women of the Year by Marie Clare magazine, which was an unexpected honour. Really, though, my election represents the work of thousands of volunteers and supporters – people like you. It's the people of Kooyong and across Australia who sent Independents to Parliament who are the real change-makers.
On Thursday I voted to pass the Government’s Secure Jobs, Better Pay bill. This was an important, complex piece of legislation; it was 243 pages long to start with- then, this week, it underwent extensive amendment by the government. We received it less than a week before we voted on it; this meant that the people of Kooyong, like the rest of the Australian public, were deprived of a good opportunity to understand what was being proposed by the Government in these complex and significant reforms.
I had concerns about some aspects of the bill, but we’ve had minimal wage growth for tears, and many Australians are doing it tough given the increasing cost of living and inflation. The bill had several measures to facilitate wage increases in the lowest paid, ‘feminised’ industries like childcare and aged care.
I believe that people across the country who work hard as carers, educators and factory staff – those many Australians who were our “essential workers” through the pandemic – those who are finding it harder and harder to afford the basics, to pay their rent or mortgage, to send the kids to school camp or to have that holiday they’ve been denied for the last 3 years – deserve a better shot when they ask for a pay rise, and that the clearly positive parts of the Bill outweighed the unclear, contested parts of it. Also, importantly, the correspondence about this from Kooyong residents overwhelmingly asked me to support the Bill and support the lowest paid workers in our community. You can watch my speech on the bill here, if you’d like to hear my full analysis of the bill and my reasons for ultimately supporting it.
Later that day I took the opportunity again to voice my objections to the Middle Arm development.
On Remembrance Day, back from Canberra, it was my honour to start the day by presenting Certificates of Appreciation to Dr Rondhir Jithoo, who served in operation Okra 2021 and to Peter McAuliffe whose father John Wallace McAuliffe served in the Second World War. I then attended a very moving ceremony at the Shrine of Remembrance where the lives of all who served were honoured and remembered. In the afternoon, I visited Bialik College to present them with new flags and say hello to the students.
Before I finish, a word about COVID. Unfortunately, the next COVID wave is upon us; case numbers are up markedly, and there are several new circulating variants. The federal government has not yet come up with a national strategy on COVID, and the piecemeal approach from different states is confusing and unsettling It’s important we do everything we can to keep ourselves and each other safe and well. Protective strategies include masking when in close contact with other people and in indoor settings (N95 masks are best if you can) ... ventilation strategies really help in the workplace and at home. Vaccines don’t stop infection but make it less severe- if you haven’t had your boosters, please do - and access antivirals if you do get COVID and are eligible to receive them- they do work. There is lots to do in this space. I promise I'll keep the pressure up on the government- for clearer public health strategies, improved access to vaccines, and greater support for people affected by COVID. I’m also still working on the Parliamentary Committee's study into long COVID: submissions from the public and other stakeholders are very welcome, but will close on 18 November 2022.
Save the Dates
• Community roundtable – Wed 16 Nov 5pm – If you are part of the Indian-Australian community in Kooyong, I would love to hear from you! We’ll meet for the first time on Wednesday 16 November at 5pm for an informal chat in which we’ll update you about a couple of bills that the Government has tabled in relation to India-Australia trade and talk about local issues that matter most to you. Please contact me at [email protected] if you would like to join us.
• It’s been a while since we’ve all caught up, so I’ll be hosting an afternoon tea in the Electorate Office from 3 – 4pm on Friday 25 November. Numbers will be limited so please register your interest in attending here
• Finally: we can’t wait to gather as a community and take stock of the last twelve months! Join me for an end of year Christmas Party 5:30 – 8:30pm on 9 December at the Camberwell Central Bowls Club – register here. I’m SO looking forward to the Christmas Party - although I think I've already received all my presents for the year.
Stay well, and enjoy some sun and warmer weather.
I hope to see you all soon on the streets of Kooyong.
P.S. If you want to watch any of the past speeches I've made in Parliament head here