The last 12 months have basically been at the pace of an election; we tried our best to speak to issues that matter to the community, particularly around reducing inequality, defending vulnerable Australians and protecting our climate.
By Rachel Siewert, Senator for Western Australia
Of course one of my favourite moments of the last 12 months was the re-election of Scott Ludlam and myself to the Senate for WA. This election showed our Greens WA team at its best: volunteer mobilisation, the number of people out doorknocking, on the phones, at booths and events was outstanding. Many of us have taken a well-earned break post-election but we are already gearing up to a state election in Western Australia, scheduled for early next year.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander issues remained high on my agenda this year, particularly progress on Reconciliation, which includes discussion on sovereignty and treaties as well as meaningful constitutional recognition. In February I wrote to the Prime Minister urging him to consider sovereignty and treaties in closing the gap because we won't close the gap without addressing the unfinished business of sovereignty and treaties; now more than ever the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community is raising these issues. I have always said that the Greens would only support recognition that is supported by our First Peoples and I look forward to the results of the consultation process with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities that the Referendum Council is currently undertaking.
Since seeing the harrowing footage from Don Dale juvenile detention centre we should be even more determined to end the high incarceration rates of Aboriginal youth. Earlier this year Minister for Indigenous Affairs Nigel Scullion scoffed at Justice Targets, calling them 'nonsense'. I urge the Minister to reconsider them so that Aboriginal kids are not locked up in a system that is doomed to leave them worse off. I will continue to join the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community and a large number of organisations who have long called for justice targets. They would help focus, initiate and drive approaches to reducing incarceration, which is what the Government is failing at.
The Government continues to vilify income support recipients and have ploughed money into initiatives like a 'welfare cop', while there are endless accounts of recipients trying to adjust their payment just to hit a busy dial tone or hours of wait time. Disability Support Pension recipients are reeling from the tightened eligibility that has left many without an adequate income being dumped onto the lower payment of Newstart. Carers trying to access the Centrelink system are being forced to stay on the line for hours, often just to be hung up on. Young single mothers are trying to access their Single Parent Payment and can't get through. It goes on.
In the last 12 months, we raised the issue of a broken Centrelink and MyGov system. Earlier in the year I read accounts of Centrelink interactions into the Senate after 88 pages of complaints to my Facebook page. I wanted to read some of those accounts into the Senate as often those trying to tell of their experiences feel invisible.
The so-called healthy welfare card or cashless welfare card is another of the Government's attempts at top down paternalistic approaches to income support, coming on the heels of the failures of the NT intervention and income management. I have campaigned hard against the cashless welfare card in the last year: we opposed the trials when the legislation was passed with the help of Labor in October; in February, my questions in estimates showed large loopholes in the trials rollout; later on I used disallowance motions to try and stop trials in Ceduna and East Kimberley. I also held a forum in Geraldton to discuss with the community the Government's proposals to introduce the card. The meeting overwhelming rejected the card.
Some senate inquiries completed in the last 12 months include those into out-of-home care and abuse, violence and neglect of people with disability in institutional settings. Despite plenty of opportunities to do so (including probes from the media) the Government is yet to act on the recommendations from either inquiry. We need a Royal Commission into abuse, violence and neglect of people with disability urgently. Once the new Parliament is underway, I'll move to restart the inquiries looking into infinite detention of people with cognitive impairment, the aged care sector work force and Lyme-like diseases in Australia.
During the election the Greens made policy announcements across the spectrum. In my portfolio areas, we released a host of measures that would help reduce inequality and close the gap, protect our oceans, ensure our farmers can grow food into the future, and much more.
Our inequality package increased key payments nationally, raising Newstart by $55 per week, moving single parents onto the higher Parenting Payment Single and a 30 per cent increase to Commonwealth rent assistance.
Our marine package ensures the immediate protection of millions of hectares of Australian ocean. Coral bleaching is occurring on our reefs all around Australia, we must reinstate marine parks to ensure they have the best chance of recovery.
Our indigenous rangers package called for longevity for the indigenous rangers program; we wrote to the Prime Minister urging him to double funding for the program and ensure longevity by committing to the program for the next 15 years.
The agriculture package would invest in science and innovation, with $75 million in additional research and development funding over four years. $100 million over four years would establish a centre for Sustainable Agriculture. Additionally, a network of 180 'agricultural extension officers' would help farmers in applying new technology to help them farm more efficiently and sustainably.
I am glad to be returning to Parliament to continue the hard work on the issues that Greens members and the community care about, I look forward to updating you on that progress in another year.