Update from the Member for Canberra
I write following a busy sitting fortnight in the House of Representatives. Parliamentary sittings are still subject to strict social distancing restrictions which mean members are rostered on for particular days where they can attend the chamber to vote or go to Question Time, and meetings and staff in the building are limited. It was a busy week for Parliament as we continued to focus on the response to COVID-19 as well as returning focus to a broader range of issues.
These sittings I took the opportunity to speak on the following topics and you can view the speeches on Youtube through the hyperlinks below:
Aboriginal Deaths in Custody In recent weeks the Black Lives Matter movement and mass protests have drawn attention to Australia’s shameful rates of incarceration of First Nations peoples, and their deaths in custody. There have been 437 Aboriginal deaths in custody, only increasing since a Royal Commission into the issue was handed down in 1991. We can and must do better, not only when it comes to disproportionate incarceration of First Nations peoples, but more broadly on the Closing the Gap agenda. Labor has been calling for justice targets, and targets around First Nations children in out of home care to be included in the Closing the Gap Framework. We must, and will, keep the pressure up on this critical issue, as well as implementing the Uluru Statement in full.
Universities After government, education is Canberra’s biggest employer and economic driver. With five universities in the electorate we are certainly a national centre for learning and innovation. It is also the nation’s third largest export, so the Morrison Government’s refusal to step in and support the university sector is not only bad for Canberra, it is bad for the Australian economy. I was proud to speak up for Canberra’s universities, their hard working staff and students, who have been left behind by the Government’s response to COVID-19. Congratulations too to the University of Canberra for being ranked as the 18th top Young University worldwide last week – an extraordinary achievement as they mark their 30th year and a testament to their brilliant and dedicated staff.
Speaking in Parliament about the need to support universities.
COVID-19 and the opportunity to rebuild an inclusive Australian economy
COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on our lives and on our economy, but it also offers an opportunity to remake the Australian economy so that it is more inclusive and more environmentally friendly. I spoke about a broad range of issues stemming from the pandemic, but also highlighted the opportunity to stimulate our economy by pursuing a national rollout of renewables and development of public housing. It is time to think big and it is apparent to me that the Morrison Government is not thinking outside the box when it comes to recovery.
Bernard Collaery and Witness K
We are seeing a very concerning pursuit of increased secrecy and reduced accountability under the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison Government. Currently here in Canberra Bernard Collaery, a former ACT Attorney-General, is being trialled in relation to his work as lawyer to ‘Witness K’, a former ASIO officer and whistle blower. The current Commonwealth Attorney-General, Christian Porter gave approval to the director of Public Prosecutions to pursue the case against Witness K and Mr Collaery, but this decision has never been explained by the Government, who have spent almost $2 million even before the case begins to ensure that Mr Collaery will have much of his court hearing heard in secret. He also won’t have access to documents being used as evidence by the Government to prosecute him. Open justice - the ability to have your case heard in public - and access to all the evidence being used against you are fundamental tenets of our legal system. It is of serious concern to me that these aren’t available to Mr Collaery and Witness K, and Labor’s Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus has requested an urgent briefing on this following the Court’s decision to proceed partially in secret last week.
The Canberra Arts community Many Canberrans have contacted me to express dismay at the Government’s decision to leave behind our arts and performance workers during the COVID-19 crisis. Thankfully the Government have now released a package of assistance but it remains to be seen whether it will be adequate given that a significant portion of the package is made up of loans. I am holding an online Arts Forum with Tony Burke, Labor’s Arts spokesperson at 6pm on 14 July.
Meeting with the Capital Arts Patrons' Organisation
I made several other speeches which you can view through the links below:
* The inadequate Homebuilder scheme and why the Government should be investing in social and affordable housing to stimulate the economy instead.
* The counterproductive APS staffing cap.
* The importance of the TAFE sector.
* How COVID-19 is disproportionately impacting women.
I also had the opportunity to ask two questions of the Prime Minister during Question Time:
|▪||One on JobKeeper.|
|▪||And another question about whether the PM agreed that it was unacceptable that numerous women from the Yass Valley have given birth on the side of the Barton Highway due to the lack of maternity services in the Yass Valley.|
I would have thought the only answer to that was ‘yes’, but instead the PM said that was why the Government would upgrade the Barton Highway! I could not believe his response. Because of this extraordinarily out-of-touch answer, the question received a lot of attention, including in the international media and on programs like Insiders and Have You Been Paying Attention?. I was really pleased that this has drawn attention to the campaign for increased maternity services in Yass, and Australia more broadly.
With no sitting weeks in July, I am looking forward to getting out into our community as social distancing decreases a little. But as the COVID-19 clusters in Victoria demonstrate, it is vital that we are adhering to the 1.5m distancing rule and washing our hands at every opportunity.
Alicia Payne MP
Member for Canberra
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