Two years under the Abbott government has been devastating for most Australians and the environment.
By Senator Lee Rhiannon
Two years under the Abbott government has been devastating for most Australians and the environment. The cruel, unfair policies of the Liberal-National parties are a daily reminder of why we need to defeat this government, elect more Greens and strengthen our campaigns for climate action, social justice and human rights.
The Abbott government has continued to pursue their neoliberal, elitist plans for higher education. Together with the community, we have worked hard to twice block Education Minister Christopher Pyne's plans to introduce fee deregulation and the diversion of public money away from public universities and into private companies.
My office ran a number of community campaigns last year as part of our work fighting the Abbott government's attacks on public education, starting with 'What Will My Degree Cost' to 'One Million Reasons'. In July we launched a 'Free and Fair Higher Education' campaign to offer an alternative narrative to both Labor and the Coalition. Education is about opportunity and freedom in life. Education lets us be empowered. It is a basic right. High quality public education should be accessible to all, regardless of their wealth or background. We will continue fighting for a fair society where everyone has the opportunity to excel and contribute without being burdened by debt.
NSW and Victorian TAFE numbers have plummeted in the past three years, a trend occurring around the country. While the public vocation education sector is in crisis private colleges are making millions as a result of the COAG agreement. This highlights the need for the government to urgently change the federal rules TAFE operates under. The Greens are calling on the Abbott government and the Labor opposition to agree to rewrite COAG agreements so TAFE can again be a well-resourced public vocational education and training provider. The Greens are calling for no public funds to go to for-profit private providers and no public funds for new private providers.
International aid and development
In the two years since the 2013 election $11 billion has been cut from the overseas aid budget. The government has announced that the main objective of overseas aid is now serving “the national interest” which means more aid money being channelled to private companies. Poverty alleviation programs should receive the bulk of our aid funding but this is not the intent of the current government.
My Promoting Gender Equality Bill is before the Senate. This Bill if passed would require the Foreign Minister to report on how funds are spent, and how these funds help to promote gender equality. The measures set out in this Bill are needed to help recalibrate Australian aid to meet the needs of women and girls in low income countries. In some cases, projects with the simple aim of increasing economic activity may actually exacerbate gender inequality.
Water and the Murray Darling Basin
In the past year I have been working with community groups to stop the government's plan to shut down the National Water Commission. While we held it off last year, in May this year the Senate voted to wind up the NWC. While this will be a cause for celebration for the government's friends in the mining industry and big irrigators, the loss of this body undermines water security in Australia. The National Water Commission is just one of a number of water oversight bodies that have been shut down by the state and federal governments, intent on limiting scrutiny of how our water resources are managed and protected. I am currently participating in an inquiry into the Murray Darling Basin.
The Greens bill for an independent Office of Animal Welfare is needed now more than ever, given the push by Liberal and National MPs for legislation that will prosecute vets, journalists, animal protection groups and other members of the public who expose animal cruelty.
I have introduced the Greens' Independent Office of Animal Welfare Bill . This Bill establishes the Office of Animal Welfare as an independent statutory authority, with its CEO responsible for reviewing and advising upon the protection of animal welfare in Commonwealth regulated activities. This has been well received by animal welfare and animal rights groups.
We have continued our work with community groups to end Australia's live export trade.
While we won the support of Labor and the Coalition for the Greens plan for Optional Preferential Voting for the Senate in the joint parliamentary inquiry, the Abbott government still has not introduced the necessary legislation. I continue to work to achieve this.
Continuing MP expenses scandals have only increased the disillusionment Australians feel with politicians. I have long advocated that our parliament allow the public to quickly find how much MPs spend on accommodation, travel, staff and everything else covered by allowances. I have recently restated this view, and added that the public should not have to wait for another inquiry to be completed before being given access to this information.
I have also been campaigning for electoral funding reform and Senate voting reform before the next election. The 2008 and 2011 inquiries into political donations and political party funding have thoroughly analysed the changes needed in our electoral funding regime, and a further inquiry is unnecessary. We need continuous disclosure for donations of $1000 or more, a strict cap on donations and limits on election spending. The Greens National ICAC Bill is also before parliament.
I spend a lot of time meeting community groups and concerned citizens across NSW. Three issues my office is campaigning on are:
Clean energy and jobs: My motion to support the work in Western NSW for renewable energy projects was backed by the Senate. 27 councils are now behind the Solar Energy Exchange Initiative. We are working for public investment and strong enforceable targets to build a renewable energy future, create tens of thousands of new jobs and cut household power bills.
Affordable housing for all: From inner Sydney to large regional cities and rural areas there is a housing crisis. The Greens plan to end negative gearing with the revenue used for more public and social housing and provide greater protection for renters is resonating with communities.
Protect rights of working people: I joined the Greens contingent and large numbers of unionists at Port Botany to support sacked wharfies on the picket line. My office has produced a jobs plan for Western Sydney and one for the Hunter.