As the Australian Greens Whip I give a regular insight into what’s happening in Parliament with the top pieces of legislation, amendments, motions, questions, and matters of public importance that the Australian Greens work on each sitting week/fortnight. In a tough 24 hour media cycle, often work done in the run of a sitting fortnight doesn’t make it to the media. The intention of this summary is to keep you informed on the work we do. This fortnight was packed with exciting work that spans across varying campaigns and issues.
1. Richard Di Natale and Peter Whish Wilson put an end to backpacker tax deadlock and secured $100m for Landcare
With the backpacker tax in deadlock, Senators Di Natale and Whish-Wilson secured a nominal backpacker tax rate of 15% but the tax rate on their superannuation will drop from 95 to 65% meaning that effectively the tax with be 13%. They also secured $100 million for Landcare. An important step towards returning the funding that was slashed in the first Abbott Budget. Richard said “Rural communities have been desperate for someone to clean up this mess with a sensible solution and the Greens have heard them. Our sensible circuit breaker has delivered farmers the certainty they’ve been calling for. The Government has made a complete hash of this issue but we are pleased that common sense has prevailed today. The Greens were not willing to stand by and risk the tax rate for backpackers jumping to 32%; that would have been a disaster not just for farmers, but for entire rural communities and the tourism industry as a whole”. You can read more here.
2. Nick McKim held George Brandis to account on the Bell Act scandal, initiating a senate inquiry into the deal
You might have seen this week reports that the Attorney General George Brandis had allegedly instructed the former Solicitor-General not to run a particular argument in the High Court in regards to the Bell Act. Senator McKim ensured appropriate scrutiny of this allegation by establishing a Senate inquiry to investigate the deal. Nick said "After two days of trying to explain himself, Senator Brandis has failed to deny instructing the former Solicitor-General not to run a particular argument in the High Court. His failure to deny this allegation is an admission of guilt, and his selective use of legal privilege to dodge that allegation is a political fig leaf." You can read more here and here.
3. Janet Rice joined Labor and the crossbench to initiate a senate inquiry into the next steps for a marriage equality bill
The Senate thankfully voted down the harmful plebiscite bill thanks to the Greens, the Nick Xenaphon team and the Labor Party, who finally agreed to vote down the bill after effective campaigning from the LGBTIQ community and supporters. Senator Rice is now working on how we pave the way for marriage equality through parliament. Janet said “The only way we’re going to achieve marriage equality is through co-operation from all sides of Parliament. This is an opportunity for anyone with questions about the path forward for marriage equality to have them answered. By working together, we will hear wedding bells ringing during this Parliament.” You can read more here.
4. Adam Bandt moved to protect the wages of Australia’s lowest paid
Adam Bandt moved to protect the pay of some of the lowest-paid Australians by closing legal loopholes that have allowed big fast food retailers and supermarket giants to underpay workers by over a billion dollars. Adam introduced a bill in the House of Reps and called on Bill Shorten and Malcolm Turnbull to back the bill. Adam said “An 18 year-old working nights at McDonalds shouldn't be getting paid less than the legal minimum wage. If the law allows deals to be done that underpay our lowest paid workers, then the law needs to be fixed. These huge corporations are not short of a quid. At a very minimum they can afford to pay the basic legal minimum to people working late at night or on weekends. I expect Labor and Liberal to support this bill, because the basic principle that an employer shouldn't be able to pay someone less than the legal minimum wage is unobjectionable.” You can read more here.
5. Larissa Waters tabled a report that called for the phasing out of coal-fired power as senate committee chair
It was a fantastic to see a senate committee recommend that Australia move completely away from coal-generated electricity. Senator Waters said “This report should be a wake-up call for the government. The electricity market is going through a dramatic transformation but it must be managed. Evidence to the committee showed that Australia’s biggest power companies, unions, climate NGOs and affected communities like the Latrobe Valley are all pleading with the government for a national plan.” You can read more here.
6. I tabled a report on the indefinite detention of people with cognitive and intellectual impairment in Australia
Many people would struggle to reconcile that people can be and are being indefinitely detained in our prisons because they have a disability and there are no alternatives for them, but that is a reality in Australia at the moment. People are stuck in prisons indefinitely when they are found unfit to plead when in fact they should be receiving therapeutic care in a secure setting or the community. In some States and Territories the judge/magistrate has no alternative other than to put someone in prison indefinitely because there is no alternative. The committee has made recommendations that include legislative reform, collecting national data, which currently doesn’t exist, screening people when they first make contact with the criminal justice system and of people already in prison, early intervention services and addressing hearing problems. We need more supported accommodation and more therapeutic care. The Government must act on these recommendations. You can read more here and here.
7. Lee Rhiannon stood up to the ABCC bill
The Greens stood strong in opposition to the ABCC bill, which unfairly targets the building and construction industry. As Lee said “The Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) will do nothing to stop corruption. It will not make workplaces more safe. It will not create more jobs or boost the economy. What it will do is strip over 1 million workers of their civil rights.” It is a shame the crossbench allowed the bill to be passed into legislation.
8. Peter Whish-Wilson applied pressure to ensure a review into oil and gas allegedly wrongly claiming billions in tax deductions
Following explosive report that showed oil and gas may be wrongly claiming billions in tax, Senator Whish-Wilson applied pressure, raising questions about the rorting from oil and gas industries following an explosive Audit Office report. Oil and gas companies may have wrongly claimed up to $5 billion in tax deductions, which is a colossal amount. Peter said “It is important that that review covers not just the PRRT, but also excises and all associated royalties. It is understandable ordinary Australians feel they are getting screwed by these wealthy oil and gas giants and we need to make sure we find every loophole and close them. The Australia Greens will still be pushing for a standalone Senate Inquiry so that these matters can be aired in public. There have been too many secretive sweetheart deals between the Liberals and corporations lately, especially ones emanating from Western Australia.” You can read more here.
9. Sarah Hanson-Young introduced a motion opposing severe cuts to the ABC
This week, Senator Hanson-Young moved a motion that was supported by the Senate that condemned the Abbott and Turnbull government's millions of dollars of cuts to the ABC. 'Friends of the ABC' were really happy to see that it passed, thanks to Sarah’s motion, the national broadcaster now has majority support in the Senate!
... and did you see this?
Richard Di Natale congratulated protesters at Parliament House, who stood up to the cruel bi-partisan offshore detention regime currently being carried out by the Government.