Update from the Member for Canberra
The Parliamentary year has concluded with a sitting fortnight that saw our Government embrace its anti-democratic and inhumane tendencies. Here are some of the highlights and lowlights.
It was deeply disappointing to see the repeal of the ‘Medevac’ legislation pass the Senate on Wednesday last week. This legislation simply guaranteed the most basic right for asylum seekers on Manus and Nauru to come to Australia for medical care if needed, and it is a shameful day for Australia that our Parliament has repealed this. Approximately 466 asylum-seekers remain on Manus and Nauru and they will find it increasingly difficult to access the medical care they need now that the decision to bring someone to Australia for medical care will be at the discretion of Minister Dutton. Despite Labor’s lobbying efforts, Senator Jacqui Lambie joined with the Government to support the repeal. Concerningly, in her speech Senator Lambie spoke about a deal she had done with the Government, while they have denied there is any deal – therefore one or the other is misleading the Parliament. The other Senators, and the Australian public, have had no visibility of the conditions of the deal if indeed there is one. As the Government has refused to brief anyone except Senator Lambie, we’ll have to wait and see if she actually secured a humane outcome for those still on Manus and Nauru.
There was much surprise echoing down the corridors of Parliament when One Nation joined Labor and other members of the Senate Crossbench to defeat the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment (Ensuring Integrity No. 2) Bill 2019 on Thursday 28 November.
However, as this Government is obsessed with its ideological crusade against unions, it pushed the Bill back through the House the following week without any debate – an unprecedented move according to parliamentary historians. It was a strange move because there was never going to be time to get it back through the Senate. This means it remains unlegislated until Parliament sits again in February. So ideological is the Morrison Government that they will fully expose their disregard for our democracy and debate in the Parliament for political half-wins like this one. Furthermore, the Government could have spent precious sitting time passing legislation to enact recommendations from the banking royal commission. Like Ensuring Integrity, bills to regulate banking misconduct will remain unlegislated until the Parliament returns next year.
As you may know, I am a member of the Joint Standing Committee on the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). After holding hearings across the country, the Committee tabled an Interim Report to encourage the Government and National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) to get moving on NDIS reforms over the next few months. Many of the issues raised with the Committee have existed for several years and require urgent attention by the Government. I spoke on the Report when it was tabled and you can watch that speech here.
The Report was tabled on International Day of People with Disability and Labor’s Shadow Minister for the NDIS, Bill Shorten, held a morning tea with members of the disability community. I invited my constituents Jesusa and her daughter Gabriela to join us. Gabriela is three years old and has been waiting for the best part of a year to receive a walker that health professionals have recommended may help her develop the ability to stand and walk. I spoke about Gabriela’s story in Parliament. You can view that speech here. The Canberra Times also wrote about Gabriela’s story here.
It was also a pleasure to meet with Neale, a young person living in aged care due to his disability. The NDIS is supposed to give people like Neale choice and control; for example, the choice to live in a house of his own rather than in a nursing home with people much older than him. Listening to Neale’s story, which you can read more about in this ABC article, once again confirmed to me why we must keep up the fight to get the NDIS right, and ensure it will deliver the choice and control that was promised.
Public Service restructure
The Prime Minister saved the best to last, announcing on the final sitting day for the year that five departmental secretaries had been sacked (by email the night before no less) and that four departments would be axed and merged into others. I spoke about the concerning changes in the Parliament, which you can view here. I also joined Katy Gallagher, ACT Labor Senator and Shadow Minister for the Public Service, to express our concerns and call on the Prime Minister to rule out any further job cuts in a press conference and on a Facebook video that you can view here.
If you are in the Public Service, and have any concerns arising from these changes, please get in contact with me at [email protected]. Furthermore, there is no better time for public servants to join the Community and Public Sector Union as restructured government departments wrestle with the realities of Machinery of Government changes. You can join the CPSU here.
Social security system
In addition to attacks on working people, the Morrison Government continued to misuse the word integrity, passing the Payment Integrity Bill through the House. The Bill will force unemployed people to expend meagre savings while waiting up to six months to be able to access Newstart. It will cut payments to age pensioners who travel overseas for longer than six weeks, and make people who were born overseas wait 15 years to access the pension. I spoke against this Bill and you can watch my speech here.
The Government is determined to control the lives of social security recipients and the introduction of a Bill to extend the Cashless Debit card program – a program that is punitive, expensive and has no evidence to support its effectiveness. I also spoke against this Bill and you can watch my speech here.
The final two weeks had several other highlights which I’ll quickly run through:
• To mark Human Rights Day, I spoke about the need to hold our international friends and allies to account in a speech you can view here.
• The University of Western Australia published a book of short policy ideas for the 50th Parliament, some 15 years away. I contributed a piece on the idea of free early childhood education which you can read on the UWA website or in The Canberra Times.
• In between divisions I dashed out the front of Parliament to visit my younger constituents who organised the Climate Classroom rally. I had to sprint back to make a vote in the House but I’m proud to represent such a politically aware and activist group of young people.
• I marked the work of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) to lobby for the return of Indigenous cultural heritage and artefacts during the 250th anniversary of Captain Cook’s journey to the east coast of Australia. You can view that speech here.
• I met with a delegation from the Australian Services Union, the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation and the SDA to discuss how proposed changes to superannuation will make working people poorer, especially women.
• Young workers from the Young Worker’s Hub in Queensland and the Victorian and ACT Young Workers Centres visited Parliament to tell MPs, including myself, that their rights at workplaces across the country are constantly violated. We need to do more for them!
• The CSIRO staff association visited my office and I look forward to working with them as the Morrison Government continues to attack the CSIRO under their anti-science agenda.
• I met with several ACT nominees for the 57th Australian Export Awards. Congratulations to ACT business, Seeing Machines, who won the Technology and Innovation Award.
• I reflected on the fact that SBS brings vital and diverse stories from our First Nations and CALD communities at the Parliamentary Friends of the SBS dinner.
• Anthony Albanese launched Andrew Leigh’s book, Innovation + Equality and I look forward to reading it over the summer.
• All ACT representatives and Anthony Albanese hosted the annual Christmas BBQ to raise funds for Vinnies – a tradition started by my former boss, Jenny Macklin.
• And along with my first year Parliamentarians, as well as Cabinet and Shadow Cabinet Ministers, I visited Government House to present the Governor-General with the Parliament’s Address in Reply – speeches from most Parliamentarians in response to his Address at the start of the sitting period.
As always, feel free to contact me if you have an issue to raise, a need for some advocacy or just want to discuss something on [email protected] or on 02 6277 4168.
Alicia Payne MP
Member for Canberra
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