Two steps forward


Despite the challenges that 2016 brought us, the Greens made the case for a more caring future and we’re getting results, blocking the worst of the government's extreme agenda and with hope on the horizon.

By Janet Rice, Senator for Victoria

What a massive year of ups and downs.

We farewelled Tony Abbott as Prime Minister, but have had to deal with a new Prime Minister beholden to his extreme backbench.

We had the recent news that Manus Island Detention Camp will be closed, but the old parties' commitment to a regime based on making life a living hell for people seeking safety remains.

We've continued to knock back the government's draconian budget measures based on discredited trickle-down economics, but we can expect more of the same in this parliament.

And as for action on climate, the government has continued a legacy of living in denial. This is perhaps summed up by the appalling cuts to the CSIRO's climate science program. It's been so encouraging to see so many stand up against these ideological attacks.

Public transport

In my own portfolio areas, we've worked hard to build community support and movements to create a cleaner, fairer society.

In transport, the battle against great big polluting toll roads continues.

From Perth Freight Link to WestConnex in Sydney to the Western Distributor in Melbourne, we're seeing governments saying they're in favour of public transport but then capitulating to a toll road agenda.

Prime Minister Turnbull loves a selfie on a train but his transport commitment for Victoria contained less than 1 per cent that went to commuter public transport.

I was proud to stand on the steps of Flinders Street Station with Richard Di Natale to announce our election commitment to prioritise projects and make it easier and safer for Australians to catch trains, trams or buses.

We've also been part of the strong campaign against the government's backwards agenda for the shipping industry. The Coalition wanted to deregulate the shipping industry so that an Australian ship travelling back and forth between WA and Victoria could put up a foreign flag and employ non-Australian workers for as little as $2 a day.

Hope for forests

In more than 30 years as a forest campaigner, I've seen blow after blow inflicted by an outdated industry, supported by both Labor and Coalition governments. The forest movement is so incredibly resilient.

With the 20 year Regional Forest Agreements coming to an end, the government is threatening to simply roll them over for another 20 years.

And the burning of native forests for energy is still classed as renewable under the Renewable Energy Target, after Labor capitulated on the issue.

But hope is on the horizon.

Most of the forestry industry is already sustainable, based on plantations.

It is my hope that we can move out of native forest logging completely. Eighty-five per cent of Australian wood products come from plantations. With the right pressure, we can move that to 100 per cent.

And we are excitingly close to creating the Great Forest National Park on Melbourne's doorstep.

Mental health and gender identity

Taking on the large task of advocating for a progressive mental health system, we've held the government to account on the roll out of Primary Health Networks and offered an alternative vision for tackling our mental health crisis during the election campaign.

And being the federal spokesperson for gender identity and intersex issues has been a roller-coaster journey.

No better was this demonstrated than one warm February morning in Canberra, when we brought together transgender young people, their families and parliamentarians from all sides of politics. We discussed the impacts of the absurd requirement for the expensive, time-consuming Family Court process to be involved in accessing treatment and what needed to be done to ditch this constraint.

The stories told were inspiring and the need for change was real. We have support from across the Parliament to change this and I'm confident our advocacy will pay off.

But the very same day, Senator Cory Bernardi tabled a petition attacking the Safe Schools Coalition. This important program reminds young people dealing with their sexuality or gender identity that they are not alone and teaches all students to embrace difference.

When one in five transgender young people experiences physical abuse and one in three considers suicide, these attacks risk tragic consequences.

It has been inspiring to see the courageous parents, students and teachers from all walks of life standing up against the bigots.

We're united in our support for Safe Schools. Not only do the Greens recognise the need to maintain the program's funding, but we are committed to extending it.

On a personal note, my partner Penny and I had some exciting news recently, with changes to Victorian law meaning Penny can now change her birth certificate without us having to get divorced.

Thank you

So despite the challenges, we are making the case for a more caring future and we're getting results.

I want to thank my colleagues in the federal party room, particularly Richard for his strong leadership and Adam — it is terrific having such a strong team in Victoria.

Thank you to Robert Simms, whose all-too-brief time in the Senate produced some amazing results. I'm sure we will see him back in the Parliament in the near future.

But most of all, thank you to all the Greens members, supporters and volunteers, who worked so hard during the election to make sure we have Greens voices in Parliament taking action for what matters.