Update from the Member for Canberra
After an awful summer for many Australians, Parliament resumed on Tuesday 4 February with a day of condolence speeches. I reflected on the devastation of Namadgi, the Beard fires that impacted residents in Oaks Estate and the terrifying South Coast fires. A focus of my speech was the impact of the air quality in Canberra has presented a health crisis in its own right – with 35 hazardous days and many days with the worst air quality in the world. I have received hundreds of emails on the issue, with all correspondents calling for climate action now. You can view my speech on YouTube.
Many moving speeches on the bushfires were made, including one from Labor leader, Anthony Albanese. Anthony’s leadership during this fire season made me so proud to be Labor. There wasn’t a day over summer that didn’t see Anthony visiting a fire-affected community or relief organisation, and calling for the practical support needed for our firefighters and people affected by fire. If only we saw similar efforts from our current Prime Minister.
I will continue to raise the need for climate action at every opportunity in the Parliament. This week I called on Scott Morrison to commit Australia to net zero emissions by 2050. The Government is considering Australia’s next targets but their current efforts indicate that they won’t be good enough. On the Government’s current commitments, it will take Australia 230 years to reach net zero emissions. Net zero by 2050 is the minimum we need to limit warming to below two degrees celsius and the survival of our Pacific neighbours depends on limiting warming to 1.5 degrees celsius. You can view my speech on YouTube.
Closing the Gap and the President of Indonesia visits Canberra.
First was the speech by Joko Widodo, Indonesia’s President. Mr Widodo’s speech hailed the new free trade agreement between Australia and Indonesia. Currently we are each other’s 13th largest trading partner – a good number but probably not good enough considering our proximity. I was particularly pleased to hear the President call on Australia to do better on climate change – an important reminder to Scott Morrison that the world is watching Australia as the nation with the greatest per capita carbon footprint.
The second significant event was the annual Closing the Gap statement. Once again, Australia’s efforts to close the gap between First Nations’ peoples and the rest of the population are flailing – we cannot accept this as a nation. As Secretary of the Labor First Nations’ Caucus Committee, I was one of five Labor speakers on the Matter of Public Importance – The Government’s failure to Close the Gap. I called on the Government to listen to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, particularly as expressed through the Uluru Statement from the Heart. Labor is committed to implementing the Uluru Statement in full, including creating a Voice to Parliament and recognition in the Constitution. You can watch my speech on YouTube.
Social security and the National Disability Insurance Scheme
As you may know, my great public policy passion is improving the social security system. I took the opportunity to speak on the Government’s plans to simplify the way Centrelink recipients report their income. It is a good move on paper. However, Labor is very concerned about the Government’s track record of implementing new technologies – the illegal Robodebt scheme being the prime example. I gave an example of a constituent I recently met at Care Inc, a fantastic and free financial counselling service here in Canberra. The client I met was in financial strife but Care had assisted him to get his finances back on track. However, the financial counsellor made the point that it is impossible to properly budget when Newstart is inadequate in the first place. The Government needs to increase Newstart as it is forcing people into poverty, not raising them out of it. I spoke about the Bill and you can watch the speech on my YouTube.
Finally, I wanted to tell you about a significant win that we were able to achieve for NDIS participants. Previously, Australians with a disability who access the National Disability Insurance Scheme were able to use the ‘core funding’ in their plans to pay for transport. Transport is understandably vital in order to get people to and from appointments, and to get service providers to deliver services in the home. The Morrison Government flicked the pen and banned this, leaving many participants, including thousands of Canberrans stuck at home unable to get to appointments, to do their shopping or social activities. Myself and Bill Shorten, Labor’s NDIS spokesperson, joined forces with a group of 40 Canberra disability service providers and participants to pressure the Government to change their mind. I also fought for the inclusion of this as a recommendation in the interim report from the Parliament’s NDIS committee of which I am member. On Monday 3 February 2020, Stuart Robert the NDIS Minister announced that participants will once again be able to use their core funding for transport. Advocating for issues like this is the reason I ran for Parliament in the first place and I was so pleased the Government saw sense and made this change.
We have a week in our communities next week, and then we’ll be back for another two-week sitting period. I look forward to updating you with Payne’s Parliamentary Proceedings after that sitting fortnight.
Until then, please get in contact at [email protected] or on 02 6277 4168 if I can assist with anything.
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