By Lee Rhiannon, Senator for NSW
Since the introduction of secretive Senate preference deals in the 1980s, the Greens have been working to give preference power back to the voter. The campaign was won in March when Group Voting Tickets were abolished, with voters now able to preference parties above the line.
The election results have revealed Labor's lies. Voters were not disenfranchised, the cross bench was not wiped out and the Coalition did not gain an entrenched majority.
My office continues to push for a national anti-corruption body and will reintroduce our Bill in the next parliament. The need for reform has never been greater. There were no less than five serious corruption scandals during the election campaign alone. Some involved lobbyists, with even the former PM Abbott voicing concern over their influence in preselections. The Greens are working for greater transparency and regulation of lobbyist activities.
The High Court expanded the definition of corruption and now there are no excuses to delay serious political donations reform. In a challenge to NSW's prohibition of property developer donations, the High Court upheld the NSW law that bans developer donations. It further noted that corruption can occur through a pattern of donations, not just an explicit quid-pro-quo arrangement.
Our Democracy for Sale project produced original research which was aired in the Four Corners story Money and Influence. We found over $8m in donations that had been declared by donors, but not by parties. This work and the High Court opinion have demonstrated that existing laws and regulations are not protecting our democracy from being bought.
We are in the process of upgrading the Democracy for Sale database to include this missing money and an industry categorisation of every donor since 1998. This will be the first time the data has been analysed and presented in this way. This will form a large part of our case to ban donations from corrupting industries, enforce expenditure caps and increase transparency.
The big news in local government this year was the undemocratic sacking of 24 councils in NSW. The Greens fought hard against the forced amalgamations and will stand firm against any repeat in other states.
One example of the benefit of councils is the leading role they play in progressive policies because they are most in touch with resident's concerns. I supported Newcastle Council's Environmentally and Socially Responsible Investment policy with a motion in the Senate. Disappointingly, Labor sided with the Coalition to vote it down.
My office will continue to work for reindexation of vital Financial Assistance Grants. The freezing of these grants is another example of the Turnbull government starting cuts at the bottom, not the top. We are also campaigning for a fairer distribution of crucial Commonwealth roads funding.
There was major progress in the campaign to ban the sale of cosmetics that have been tested on animals. Our Bill provided the hook for national and international animal welfare organisations to campaign and lobby. These activities and our behind the scenes work to engage the major parties finally won a commitment from them to ban the sale of cruel cosmetics. The Greens will work to ensure they stick to their word in the legislation they have promised to back in the next parliament.
NSW and the ACT announced bans on greyhound racing following a shocking NSW government inquiry and years of campaigning by animal welfare groups and the late Greens MP John Kaye. My office is now working with interstate Greens and stakeholders to expand the ban across the country.
We introduced a Bill to ban the importation of live primates for research, and a Bill to set up an independent office of animal welfare. The inquiries into these Bill brought to light low standards for animal welfare and the urgent need for action.
My office also worked with Californian Senators and Humane Society United States to ensure science and data was considered in the debate to retain the Californian ban on imported products made from kangaroos. Californian Senators and the relevant Senate Committee sought and were provided with the science about kangaroos as a slow-growing species with low reproductive rates and high juvenile mortality. My office also facilitated Californian access to Australian scientists mapping actual count data from government kangaroo survey transects, and survey and extrapolation methodologies showing the hyperinflation of quoted population 'estimates' used to support the commercial industry. We also revealed the Australian Government's role in explicitly funding the industry's communications strategy.
International aid and development
Unfortunately the Turnbull Government continued Abbott's savage attacks on the aid budget. Aid now makes up just 0.22 per cent of GNI, the lowest level ever recorded. Disappointingly, Labor has backed the majority of these cuts. By contrast the Greens recommitted to the UN's call for all countries to commit 0.7 per cent of GNI to the aid budget.
We will follow the British government's lead and introduce a private members bill for the 0.7 per cent target. Further, we will reintroduce our Bill to ensure aid funding is used for gender equality. This is part of a broader campaign to ensure aid is used for poverty alleviation and capacity building, not just the narrowly defined “national interest”.
My office is also working to ensure Australia does not trade off aid and climate change mitigation funds. Australia must be a good regional neighbour and assist smaller nations deal with the consequences of climate change without raiding the already depleted aid budget.
Water contamination in Williamtown
Residents around the Williamtown RAAF base learned late last year that their water had been contaminated from fire-fighting foam used on the base. The federal government has dragged its feet, hiding information and delaying much needed compensation and blood tests. I established a Senate inquiry into Williamtown which was expanded to include similar contamination across the country. My office will continue to work with the community to ensure the government follows through on the inquiry's recommendations.
Nuclear waste dump in Hill End
The residents around Hill End near Bathurst defeated a proposal to put a nuclear waste dump in their community. The Greens worked hard to support their call for consultation and to prevent the dump bolstering a pro-nuclear agenda.
Jobs crisis in the Illawarra
Recent industry disruptions and the gutting of the public education system have hit the Illawarra hard. My office worked closely with the late John Kaye, the Illawarra Greens and local unions to campaign for a sustainable and secure steel industry for the area. John's Bill to ensure local steel is used in infrastructure projects is currently making its way through the NSW parliament. I hope to bring a similar bill to the federal parliament soon to ensure the viability of steelworks and their supply chains across the country.
The people of Western Sydney continue to be treated with contempt by state and federal governments. The Western Sydney Airport and WestConnex toll road will not solve Sydney's transport or employment problems. They will increase pollution, travel times and transport costs while subsidising the profits of corporations like Transurban. My office will continue to campaign for high speed rail and efficient public transport as alternatives.
Protecting the precious NSW environment
My office produced a 32 page booklet on the unique ecosystems of NSW and the failure of state and national environment laws to provide the required protection. We launched the booklet and campaigned at key places around the state during the election campaign. We were grateful to have the foreword written by Bob Brown, fresh from his arrest in the Lapoinya Forest. Communities around the state were pleased to have their environmental treasures appreciated, and to be informed how they are under threat from poor planning and the gutting of environmental regulations.